8 Steps for Breaking Your Agency Out of Its Pre-Covid Habits

It's time for marketing's lemonade break

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It's time for a pause and reset. Getty Images
Headshot of Bobby Hershfield

The game got away from us.

We were constantly “it’ in an enormous game of tag, never quite catching up to our audiences, and getting tired. Need a campaign? Just grab that influencer over there. Have a project? Just have eight agencies pitch for it. Need to stay relevant? Just find something with a lot of views and slap a logo on it. Craft? Idea? Just get it out there.  And there we stood, hands on hips gasping for air.

We stopped leading consumers and started following them. Branding gave way to transaction. Purpose took a back seat to promotion. Values were cast aside for likes, views and retweets. The message became less important than the medium.

For marketers, this is a good time to think about the type of relationships you are trying to build.

But now we’re home. Sneakers dirtied, knees grass-stained and standing at the big oak tree we once called “safety”.  The lemonade break when we catch our breaths and figure out our next move. Consumers, marketers and agencies taking their sips, bonded by uncertainty and insecurity. Trying to find comfort in the chaos. Not sure what we’re allowed to buy, sell, think or feel. United in our desire for trust, search for hope and need for a connection.

For marketers, this is a good time to think about the type of relationships you are trying to build. A few things to consider:

Identify your north star

Coming out of this, there will be an acceleration and broadening of the need to identify with values and principles that go beyond demographics. What do you stand for beyond your product or brand? What do you want your corporate reputation to be? What principles will connect you to your consumers because they are considering your values and not just what you sell.

Be open, transparent and honest

In order to cultivate trust, we have to put ourselves out there more than we might be used to. We will have to resist the temptation to manipulate and position. Gimmicks, pranks on unsuspecting customers, faux testimonials might not fly anymore. Real connections through humor, relatable expressions of emotions, empathy and sincere reason will strike a more profound chord with consumers.

Live your purpose

We might be in a time of “snackable” content, but principles can be enduring. Value purpose over popularity and align your brand with influencers and partners who share your beliefs. A strong purpose will help your brand prosper in good times and will allow it to live on when times get rough.

Welcome outside opinions

Self-serving I admit, but now you need the Agency. People with outside perspective who can push you to solve new, unexpected problems and overcome challenges with objective, consumer-focused creative solutions.

For agencies, shame not to not take advantage of the restart as well.

Reconsider talent

With layoffs and furloughs becoming common headlines, it’s a good time to reconsider how an agency is staffed. A diversity of backgrounds and talents will become more critical in reaching a more diverse audience. And it’s a good time to see who’s into the job for the job and not the perks. Find those people who believe in what we do and the importance of what we put out there. Who are hungry for insightful strategies and breakthrough work. Who want to help lead culture.

Reconsider culture

Right now, as offices sit empty, we’re seeing that the physical space is no substitute for a commitment to people and ideas. So, as we return to our offices after a deep cleaning to remove all potential germs and viruses what else can we wipe clean? This will be a good time to redefine how we bring people together and collectively use and behave in a space.

Reassess best practices

Be more transparent and open in our relationships with our clients. From billing to how we collaborate with internal teams to how we work with partner agencies. If we want to earn the respect we believe we deserve, let’s earn it by becoming true partners in their time of need.

Break formulas

Put more of a priority on originality. Not every brief has to have the product make the consumer “a better version of themselves.” Not every execution needs a reveal. Testing doesn’t have to be the only means of validating ideas.  If we want to be taken seriously, treat each client as its own and stop trying to find common denominators between them.

When this shall pass, who will people believe in and identify with to get on a plane, go to a restaurant or shop at a store? It’s not going to happen with a bunch of we’re-all-in-this-together-messages. And it won’t happen from following the habits and practices of our consumers since those have all been put on pause. We will need to lead. Invests in our consumers more than the vehicles with which we try to reach them.

We joined this business because we wanted to insert our voice into the brands and products we sold. We wanted the power of having something to say and to see who listened. In these fearful and surreal times, we have the opportunity to rediscover why we fell in love with this business in the first place.  And when the world gives a loud and collective, “game on!” we can put down our lemonade, retie our sneakers, step away from the oak tree and let a new game begin.


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Bobby Hershfield is CCO at The VIA Agency.
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