While the future remains uncertain, one thing is becoming clear, lockdown is lifting but its legacy will linger. Recovery will be difficult and slow.
It will also be wildly uneven.
Here’s the thing
If lockdown affected all agencies equally, then some were considerably more equal than others.
Even at the lowest point, the negative effects were far from universal. Pockets of growth and islands of opportunity were popping up left, right and centre.
With flexible positioning, an agile eye and an ability to move quickly and decisively, many digital agencies have bucked the trend entirely with stories of record revenues and huge client wins.
The agencies hit hardest were those with experiential or event-led offerings. The engagement formats reliant on physical proximity or real-world interactions. Social distancing didn’t just disrupt their game, it iced them in their tracks… and many won’t be back any time soon.
Yet, even here, those able to move fast and pivot first, into digital-event packages for example, were quickly able to sweep up growing pots of unspent marketing budgets from SME to enterprise.
The turn to online
Our story is no different. And equally unique. The rollercoaster ride recently saw entire sections of our client base become non-operational. Budgets were frozen. Projects were cancelled. Plans were binned.
SoPro lost around 100 clients in short order.
But this was only half the picture.
Elsewhere budgets were being ramped up by sectors suddenly experiencing unexpected growth. Within these industries companies were seeking new partners, for new plans.
Agile agencies were repositioning to support new sectors, others shifting to digital and those agencies already fortunate enough to serve booming industries (think logistics, healthcare, online retail) were raking in new business.
We now see a majority of sectors charting their course back to business as usual, with one eye on cashflow and the other on a recession-filled horizon.
And their ‘third eye’ is on digital.
The truth is, one of the major effects of social distancing has been the savage acceleration of an already established shift to online. The appetite for user-generated content has increased and social media influencers have had their importance magnified beyond an already burgeoning presence. City billboard inventory has been traded out for dynamic display campaigns and terrestrial TV ad spend is funding YouTube mid-streams.
If you shut your eyes and think about it, in many ways, agencies have never been so in-demand. It’s just that, for many of us, the newfound demand sits squarely outside of our comfort zone.
Those agencies able to make small gains during lockdown are almost certainly set to win big as the economy thaws. Those who managed to refocus and reduce dependency on the most heavily impacted sectors and expanded their targeting and propositions to service previously unsupported sectors have cleaned up. Big time.
Headline budgets have been cut in most sectors, but the truth remains that – despite an oncoming recession – unspent marketing budgets and an increasing urgency to rebalance year to date sales deficits are driving unprecedented demand for digital engagement solutions.
So how does this play out?
In the main, this shift stays. The future has arrived a little earlier than planned but you can expect digital remain prominent even as social restrictions ease.
This doesn’t go back in the box.
New business in the new normal
So to finish on a full circle… it is true that in the blink of an eye the world was a different place.
Those agencies that are still planning for things to return to form will be bitterly disappointed and may will fail.
The new normal requires a new you.
And you should probably start now.
Ryan Welmans is the Founder of Sopro