In early 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically changed how companies across the United States do business, and the marketing and advertising industries were no exception. With employees deemed non-essential, many teams found themselves forced to work from home while the pandemic waged on.
Now, months into the pandemic, many agencies – even those who have gone back to the office – still find themselves fragmented and dealing with stressful client loads in uncertain times.
Digital Third Coast, a Chicago-based SEO agency with an emphasis on PPC, SEO, and Digital PR, used the Covid-19 pandemic as a time to reassess its business model and rethink their service offerings. In doing so, they reached out to agency executives across the country to learn how their own businesses have been shaped by the pandemic – and found that they weren’t alone. In their study, “How Covid-19 Impacted Marketing & Advertising Agencies,” they found that 68 percent of agencies had to fundamentally change how they did business due to the pandemic. Most often, they changed their service offerings (75%), most often amending current offerings, offering new prices, or reducing their rates.
“We now offer disposable menus and created new social media and website programs for industries severely impacted,” Nancy Dibert, CEO of Epic Marketing Consultants explained. Others, like Amin Lalani of EVISION, refined their offerings to give more sense to them.
“While our slate of services is unchanged, we are offering much greater flexibility in mixing and matching services and requiring lower minimums for retainers and projects than usual,” said Trish Thomas, CEO of Teem. “We’ve also made temporary rate concessions to help clients maintain marketing efforts rather than curbing spend to a detrimental level.”
LeaseLabs by RealPage has also put forth a concerted effort to help clients make the most of every dollar.
So has LiveWebMedia. Alen Kevorkian, CEO, pointed to adjusting rates to help meet customers halfway.
“Many want to take this opportunity to begin their own business, but with limited funds, it’s hard for many to take the first step, this is where we have adjusted our pricing module to help them achieve their goals.”
Some agencies have been lucky enough not to feel the pull of changing offerings. At Kick Point, president and partner Dana DiTomaso says that the focus has just shifted.
“We haven’t changed what we offer at all. We are doing a larger percentage of website design/development work than we have in past years, but that could either be COVID-19 related or would have happened anyway because we are getting better known for our website work.”
Regardless, customer interaction remains key during these difficult times. Gulo has become practiced in what VP of Strategy Chris Bonney refers to as “empathetic outreach.”
“We are having more conversations with our clients about what we offer,” he said. “Making sure they are aware of our full-service suite and not assuming they will call us if they need anything.”
Three out of four agencies said they made a financial change to their business model, as well, with many making difficult decisions to cut salaries, furlough workers, or make layoffs. Others, such as Powerphrase, became more competitive in pricing to charge slightly less.
The effects of the pandemic on agencies haven’t been all bad, though. Some executives report a growth in business and the opportunity to use the time to pivot their model.
Brenton Way has seen its structure and agency change completely and has become a growth-focused agency, thanks largely to Covid-19.
“The only thing that happened for us during COVID-19 is that our business grew much quicker than we were expecting so we had to hire another 3 team members to help out as there was a major influx in business,” explained Jon Boles of Avintiv Media. “We are very grateful that we planned for the market to take a hit which is why we purposely have clients in 4-6 different industries. Some industries went down in sales and then some skyrocketed which is why our business had a huge influx during COVID-19.”
Customer bases have also been changed.
“The types of clients we serve has changed more than what we offer them,” Matt Roberts of AdInfusion said. “Less smaller clients, more larger clients who were better equipped to weather the storm.”
Likewise, WebSpero Solutions also changed its industry focus.
“We did not change our service offerings, but we decided to focus on different industries during COVID,” Rahul Vij, CEO, explained. “We started targeting digital companies, companies delivering groceries, or gaming companies, and with that percentage of work for different services changed during COVID.”
Crea7ive says the opportunity to change and grow isn’t one to miss.
“We are definitely looking at COVID as an opportunity to pivot into a product or more specialized agency,” said chief creative office Pia Celestino. “We have been thinking about it for a long time and these times, as hectic as they are, present an opportunity to change and evolve into something new. This is surely exhilarating.”
And at many agencies, teammates are welcoming the changes that come alongside Covid-19. Rainfactory reports an improved internal system and the employees at Avintiv Media have become physically healthier.
“We … went 100% remote for the rest of 2020, which has been amazing,” Boles said. “Our team’s productivity has skyrocketed and our culture even grew as team members were much happier being able to work from home and eat healthier and even work out during the day.”
More than anything, the pandemic has been a “humbling” experience as one leader said, with many honing their offers and focusing further on their business models.
Despite not overhauling offerings, many became more nuanced and competitive or flexible in their pricing.
Client retention is key during these stressful times. Some agencies have found ways to work more efficiently in order to maximize budgets, while others pointed to a more open stream of dialogue with clients.
One thing is clear: the digital nature of the marketing and advertising industries have helped many weather the storm.