Clients Need Grounding Agency Creativity Now More Than Ever

Thriving amid chaos gives these new partnerships a more secure sense of leadership

two people looking at each other over a cube square
And, luckily, quarantine is a great time for a spike in creativity. Amira Lin for Adweek

Over the past few months, optimists have focused on what we can all learn from the pandemic, including the health and economic crisis it has created.

For the marketing and advertising industry, this crisis has served as a catalyst to hyper-focus agencies on what they do best, regardless of discipline: addressing a client’s business problems and solving them through creativity. And there isn’t a more urgent and unprecedented global problem as the current pandemic with ramifications across health, society and economic sectors.

Here are three key areas where new habits and behaviors have been adopted that are hopefully here to stay:

Client/agency relationships

An area often referenced is how to improve the client/agency relationship. The 4A’s has offered management guidance to its members, which usually starts with communication. The crisis has emphasized the importance of both clients and agencies focusing on what’s critical. As a result, the 4A’s has received feedback from members on how the client/agency relationship is evolving for the better.

Marketing and implementing the right approach while striking the right tone is central to brands now more than ever. With heightened stakes for sales and branding, clients are more receptive and appreciative of thought leadership and advice from agencies. With Covid-19 pulling the focus and honing the conversation, client and agency efforts are more synchronized and streamlined, leaving room for important conversations with senior-level leadership.

Now, agency leaders are trying to codify and capture this spirit to remind clients how much agencies can make an impact when talking about the big-picture business challenges rather than talking about the tactical details of a campaign.

Another change for the better is that risk-taking is the new norm. Risks have always been a balancing act for agencies with their clients. Agencies are meant to push, be provocative and create healthy tension. Clients are traditionally more conservative when mitigating risk in the interest of reinforcing the certainty of investments.

Covid-19 has significantly increased the opportunity for provocative messaging in a reduced risk environment. Decisions happen faster and rely more heavily on intuition, and the need to escalate to the key decision-maker happens in a compressed time frame. With less time or resources to fully assess alternative options, test and review, revisit, edit, refine and approve, there is a more dynamic feedback loop with increased impact.

Therefore, marketers need to focus on the strategic business challenges, be provocative and embrace risk-taking to survive this pandemic era.

New business

When the reality hit that new business pitches could no longer take place by physically bringing people together, many speculated that they would be paused or postponed. While that did happen with some, many decided to continue and even launched reviews.

New business is critical for agencies, especially as more work continues to shift from project to retainer based in addition to an increase in jump-ball assignments. Agencies did what they always do best by getting creative and pivoting strategies. It forced some positive shifts, ensuring that only the most critical people are attending the meeting, rehearsal and orchestration became carefully aligned and a streamlined process focused on the most critical elements.

So focus on the work, streamline the process and value the work without expecting IP for free.


The way we work has been redefined for all. Working remotely, either full time or part time, is being embraced for its flexibility and convenience. Communication seems to be enhanced as companies and teams are able to be more expansive and inclusive.

With these shifts comes opportunity for a new focus on what’s most critical to the industry’s success: talent. Agencies need to focus on greater diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, and we all know that makes for a better work environment and product.

This is especially true for agencies with multiple office locations. Recruiters now have the opportunity to hire talent from anywhere, leveraging a larger hiring pool and greater flexibility. That’s good for clients, too.

Increasing diversity will allow agencies to be more equitable and inclusive with their teams. Focus on talent, not geography, to embrace people from everywhere.

This pandemic has reinforced that words only move so much; actions go the distance. A shift we can all feel has occurred. While it takes approximately 60 days for a new behavior to become automatic, we cannot rely on the past to develop the present. Hopefully, these new ways of working will continue.

This story first appeared in the June 15, 2020, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.
@meknyc Marla Kaplowitz is the CEO of the 4As.