What should your post-COVID agency support look like?

Few businesses can say that the past months haven’t disrupted their agency needs; from budget cuts in marketing and comms to changes within teams and in-house resources.

Whatever the changes have been, it’s important not to ignore them, as the boiling frog did. If a lot has changed it’s worth considering whether the agency relationships you came into this year with, are still providing the right support at the right budgets.

At Something Big we are great believers that although there’s never an easy time to review your agency roster, there is a difficult time to tackle it. Usually, that’s when it’s already gone wrong and frustrations have set in on either your or both sides. Sometimes things like budgets and in-house resource shift gently over time and your relationships with external partners drift apart. COVID offers a great opportunity to take stock of what’s changed and take the opportunity to press reset.

If you’re wondering whether it’s the right time to review your agency support how about starting with these questions:

  • If I were choosing my agency support from scratch today would I choose the agencies I have?
  • Given my requirements, budgets and ways of working today, would the agency partners I have today choose to pitch for my business?
  • Do I still LOVE my agencies, turning to them when I need help and when things are going well? Alternatively, do we have good days and bad or worse still, am I overtime finding myself more often than not a little frustrated by things like turnaround times, a lack of passion or hunger for new brief?

In reflecting on these questions, has it made you realise this is the time for a refresh? Then before you rush off to determine the tender list, consider the type of agency that might be right for you given where you are now. A key factor might be whether to choose a network or independent agency, here are some of our thoughts on that: (biased, but undeniable facts nevertheless!)

Network agencies….

  • Have the experience of working with the best-in-class leading brands, which is great if you are one of those brands. Of course, if you’re not, then this usually just means you are a small fish in a big pond.
  • Are international enabling them to work around the clock, supporting you locally as well as globally to give you a united service. If your organisation isn’t set up this way, then you’re simply working on a local level whilst paying for the global support functions of your agency. Noting that each of those local country branches is measured by how much return they contribute to the group brand, who are likely to be flying people around the world to manage all these local branches and someone’s fees have to cover that cost….
  • Have access to the best talent, experience, training, tech solutions and general resources. Yes, they do, and if you’re one of their key clients you’ll have access to that too. However, if you’re one of their smaller fish, sadly you’re more likely to have access to a junior team, so again you’ll be paying for it but not always getting the benefit of it.
  • Might not like to admit this but they have minimum budgets that they’ll work for, under which they often politely decline work. This forces you to commit to either a volume of projects or a length of the relationship that you might not want to commit to right away and then when you’re contractually tied there’s always room for a little complacency to set in.

Independent agencies ….

  • Are usually still owner operated so you’re likely to have access to their senior and usually very experienced experts.
  • Are used to working with smaller brands, so even with minimal budgets, you can be a very big fish in their relative pond, making them hungrier to work with you.
  • Operate a very different business model where your fees are likely to be paying for the resource working on your projects more accurately, not feeding the entertainment budget of some exec you’ve never met.
  • Are happy to work on a project basis, so you don’t have to commit or sign endless contracts. As a result, they’re used to being kept on their toes, only as good as their last project, so service levels are usually tight, agile, responsive and tailored to your needs.

Don’t get us wrong, network agencies have a place and there are plenty of great ones that provide an excellent service for the leading brands and create some amazing marketing work. The thing to consider is whether your budgets can continue to stand up to that in a post COVID world, if not you may just get better service, more hunger and flexibility for a smaller agency.

Having decided what type of agency partner you’re looking for; you then have to determine the ‘wheat from the chaff’ and find the best agency for you. This is going to come down to the type of business you are, what skills you’re looking for and many other factors but in general terms think about:

  1. Who could recommend an agency to you?

Even a simple shout out on LinkedIn can offer up plenty of passionate referrals. A little insider agency insight here: many agencies wear cobblers’ shoes when it comes to their marketing and largely live off referrals for new business. This is great news for you, it means people out in your network will be able to refer you to the best agencies and could save you a lot of time.

  1. Selecting an agency and the tendering process

Once you’ve started pulling a list of interesting agencies together don’t jump into a tender process straight away. Pitches are huge time suckers for both you and the agencies involved. Whilst selection processes have to be fair and thorough there’s nothing more depressing for everyone than a complete lack of chemistry in a pitch room, that could have been avoided by a 15 min call several weeks (and hundreds of hours of effort) earlier.

More than 24,000 agencies operate in the UK, you won’t have good chemistry with all of them, so try to narrow down your search early on. Start by having some simple conversations first to openly talk about what you’re looking for, build up some chemistry and you’ll soon determine who you can see yourself working with whether that is an agency or not. Then when you’re ready you can revert to the tender process or simply do a quick project together to find out if you are the right partners.

Positive agency partnerships can be really rewarding, creative and make a great impact! We have some great and very long-term partnerships because we put a lot into our client relationships, and we work hard to make sure we’re the right agency to help our clients. If you want to find out if we might be the right agency partner for you and see how we can provide your business with post- COVID agency support, then why not give us a shout and we can arrange a quick virtual ‘cuppa’ to see if we have good chemistry.

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