Five Lessons From Agency Leaders in 2022, From Agency Project Management Processes to Managing Creative Talent
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The last two years have been a turbulent time for any business. Agencies in particular have seen immense disruption and opportunity, both as their own businesses change and as their clients adapt to new operating conditions.
Deltek has been working with Campaign, a leading media publisher, to understand how agencies have responded to the turbulent markets around them – and what other businesses can learn from them.
The first part of this was a joint report that surveyed nearly 200 agency professionals from around the world. The second was a roundtable webinar where I joined three agency leaders to explore the real impacts the pandemic had on agencies and their people, from managing creative talent to changing agency project management approaches.
Discover my five key lessons from the session.
1. Diversification Is Valuable – But Comes With Risk
In the Campaign survey, 56% of agencies plan to offer more services throughout 2022. There’s no doubt diversification helped agencies stabilise and avoid the worst of the disruption cause by the pandemic during 2020 and 2021. And many will continue to diversify their offerings to reduce risk.
However, my belief is that delivering a broad set of services brings its own challenges – as each offering will come with different levels of risk, and different potentials for profit and revenue.
Even outside of the operational challenges of diversification, there’s a material cost to your staffing and training as well. As Jacinta Szuman, Managing Director of Gravity Road, said, offering new services means retraining teams in a brand-new area of expertise. And that demands significant agency project management changes to get it right.
2. Savvy Firms Are Pitching Selectively
While many agencies are bringing new services to the table, I think it’s important that firms carefully choose what jobs they accept across each service area.
Another one of our amazing webinar panellists, St Luke’s Chief Executive, Neil Henderson, explained how St Luke’s strong financial position this year has allowed it to be selective in the jobs it accepts.
The benefits of this are profound, helping Henderson’s teams tackle larger, potentially more profitable work that also brings greater recognition to the business, and allows people to stretch themselves creatively.
3. Firms Need a Technological and Cultural Shift
Many agencies were forced to transform their approach to technology in the early stages of the pandemic. This technology backbone will be crucial for agencies looking to move forward in 2022. But it’s only one part of the puzzle.
Henderson rightly pointed out during our discussion that people need to really understand what technology means for them and how they’ll benefit. That’s the only way to create a culture where people learn to use tech platforms in the best way to deliver great results.
Other speakers agreed. Ashley Bendelow, Managing Director at Brave told us about how his agency is looking to consolidate, rather than expand, its technology footprint. Our other panellists unanimously agreed that a cautious approach is important for agencies. Why? For a couple of key reasons:
- Employees have had to use all sorts of new platforms throughout lockdown periods (think Teams, Zoom etc.) and are at risk of being overwhelmed
- Some businesses are already using multiple agency project management systems to work alongside different clients – something that isn’t always negotiable – but consolidating disparate systems can offer a number of benefits, from increased efficiency to greater overall project visibility
So, in the cases where agencies do get a choice to streamline their technology stack, less can be more.
Talent, Transformation and Growth: Creative Agencies in 2022
How have creative agencies evolved to meet the current challenges, and what are their top priorities for the year ahead?
4. There’s No Silver Bullet For Employee Retention
Resourcing and managing creative talent are one of the most pressing issues facing agencies today. But I believe that there are some key questions you need to answer in your work to improve employee satisfaction and retention.
The first, and most obvious, question is: how do you manage people effectively in a hybrid working environment? Szuman is lucky that many Gravity Road employees stay with the agency for some time, but that only comes from a nuanced understanding of different needs across her team. That’s why Gravity Road is putting flexibility first and avoiding a hard return to the office five days a week.
The second is around culture: how do you create a culture that puts people first? Each agency will have to tackle this challenge from a different angle. Bendelow and Brave are focused on solidifying the agency’s mission and vision, and ensuring Brave Minds – its initiative for supporting employee’s mental health – supports Brave’s culture and people.
The final part is focusing on improving retention. As agencies battle against ‘The Great Resignation’, anything they can do to retain high-performing staff helps ensure business continuity. Ensuring employees can learn and develop is vital, but it’s important team members get individual plans that reflect their unique needs, goals and ambitions.
5. Be Careful What You Measure
Whether your agency is focusing on people, profits, or a mix of the two, you’ll likely have plenty of KPIs to help you measure success. There are many approaches to tracking key metrics though, and in my experience, some are better than others in helping you understand your challenges and opportunities.
For example, St Luke’s looks carefully at employee churn, but it also monitors where leavers go next. It found that many leavers go travelling or pursue brand new career paths rather than moving to other agencies. This helps leaders at St Luke’s know that its approach to employee engagement is working and means they aren’t losing employees to competitors.
And on the operations front, Szuman explains how measuring productivity can be dangerous without context. She argues that while some tasks look like unproductive, unbillable hours, they can still be immensely helpful. Tasks like pitching bring huge potential learning opportunities – whether the pitch is successful or not. Taking context like this into account is vital to avoid over-tuning or removing useful processes.
Every Agency Needs New Tools to Thrive
2022 looks to be another year of uncertainty and opportunity. Every agency will need to play to its strengths to find success in this coming year, but I hope these tips will inspire you to develop an approach that works for you, your people, and your clients.
Don’t forget to watch the full discussion for even more insights from our amazing speakers, and to download our report: Talent, Transformation and Growth: Creative Agencies in 2022 to see what your peers have planned for the coming year.
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About the Author
An experienced business professional, Neil Davidson has spent over 15 years’ in client facing roles for Deltek and prior to its acquisition, Maconomy, as Managing Director and Services Director. As Vice President of Enterprise EMEA, Neil now leads the Deltek Enterprise team which takes great pride in partnering with FTSE 100, CAC 40 and large privately owned clients to provide innovative solutions to the diverse challenges of running a global professional services business. With vast experience advising professional services organisations on the benefits of project-based ERP, Neil’s deep sector knowledge ensures clients meet their objectives for improved profitability, growth and cash flow from the deployment of ERP. Neil holds an LLB in Law from Nottingham University, and a diploma in Strategy from the Scandinavian Institute of Management.
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