How Agency Leaders Adapted in 2020 and How They're Preparing for 2021

Posted by Deltek on January 21, 2021

How agencies have adapted in 2020 – and what they’ve learnt for 2021

Agencies are no strangers to big changes. They’re used to fluctuating demand, evolving client expectations, and market disruptions – but nothing could’ve prepared them for the changes they experienced in 2020.

The pandemic forced agencies to rethink core elements of their business, including everything from financial management to onboarding new employees. But now the dust has settled, many are looking ahead to how they can prepare for a new way of working.

In our recent webinar, we gathered agency leaders from We Are Social, IPA, TMW Unlimited and Gravity Road, to find out what they learned from 2020, and how they’re using those insights to plan for the months ahead. Below are some highlights from the webinar "How Can Agencies Survive the Next 18 Months?".

There’s a bigger shift to project-based working

One thing that became clear throughout the webinar is that agencies have had to change the way they serve clients during the pandemic.

“I think the industry has started to transition into a much more project-based way of working, rather than working on retainers,” said Chris Mellish, CEO of London-based creative agency TMW Unlimited. “We’ve all got to assume a certain level of uncertainty over the next twelve months. That means managing our talent base in a way that’s more flexible, and ready to adapt to the changing needs of our clients. For us, it’s all about getting the right balance between our permanent team and a set of trusted freelancers we can flex up and down when they’re needed.”

 

[Webinar] How Can Agencies Survive the Next 18 Months?

 

Senior agency executives and industry experts discuss how they’re planning for 2021 in this on-demand webinar.


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Remote onboarding demands a new approach

Starting a job can be difficult at any time – but during a pandemic, when you’re forced to work remotely, it’s a prospect that holds new challenges.

“Since April, we’ve hired about 30 people, and trying to give them a real sense of the culture in our agency has been tricky,” explained Jim Coleman, UK CEO of global creative marketing agency We Are Social. “We wanted to make sure we weren’t just sending a laptop in the post and onboarding people with a couple of calls.”

But new challenges call for creative workarounds, and We Are Social quickly established a new method for remote onboarding. “We ended up creating a two-week induction period for new employees, which starts off with having conversations with everyone in the agency,” said Jim. “We wanted to make sure they could meet all the people they might need to work with, and ensure they had all the tools they would need in a normal office environment.”

Make space for breathing room in the day

When the working diary gets filled up, it can be difficult to find points in the day to step back and clear your head – especially when working to the fast-paced rhythm of agency life.

“With remote working, you don’t have the small talk, you don’t have the journeys to meetings, and you don’t have those chats that trigger great ideas,” said Jacinta Szuman, Managing Director at Gravity Road.

“It’s something I’ve become really aware of, and it’s a big challenge from a culture perspective,” explained Jacinta. “It’s all about creating variety for people and adapting to their needs. There’s no strict rulebook, because everybody’s working conditions are different, so you have to give people a lot of license. It feels more discretionary than before.”

 

" Agencies’ biggest challenge right now is stepping out of reactionary mode. Earlier in the year, everyone was focused on stability and firefighting – but now we all need to focus on consistency, which means we should be able to have great profitable projects, not just once, but every single time, repeating what we do well and looking beyond the short-term"

Nancy Murray, Managing Director, Deltek Agency Solutions

Wellbeing should be a new priority for the year ahead

There was a strong focus on employee wellbeing from all our agency leaders during the conversation. Every roundtable participant recognised their people have adapted differently to remote working, and the level of support they need has likely changed since last year.

“Working from home has been a very polarising situation. I’ve got some people that would happily work from home, five-days a week, forever. But I’ve also got people that would rather be in the office full-time as soon as they can be,” said Chris. “We’ve got to make sure we cater to all those needs, while still maintain our agency’s culture.”

“We’ve been setting up regular team meetings and encouraging line managers to meet their teams face-to-face where they can – there’s just certain things you can’t pick up on a Zoom call,” explained Chris. “It’s much more important to invest time in staff wellbeing now.”

It’s time to step out of reactionary mode

The challenges for agencies won’t end this year – they’ll just evolve further in 2021. But Nancy Murray, Managing Director of Agency Solutions at Deltek was on hand to offer advice for agencies staring down the challenges of 2021.

“Agencies’ biggest challenge right now is stepping out of reactionary mode. Earlier in the year, everyone was focused on stability and firefighting – but now we all need to focus on consistency, which means we should be able to have great profitable projects, not just once, but every single time, repeating what we do well and looking beyond the short-term”, explained Nancy.

“Creative and profitable work will be dependent on a few things next year, including tightened pricing strategies and more efficient workforce productivity. There will need to be a balance between wellbeing and revenue to avoid burnout, and agency leaders will need a clear way to track these elements with meaningful data.”

Watch the full webinar on-demand

We’ve only covered a few of the compelling insights that came out of our conversation with these agency leaders. Watch the full webinar on-demand to hear more from our industry leaders – including how they’re managing client relationships during the pandemic, and what positives have come from remote working.


 

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