Time To Do Things You Think You Could Not Do Before

If nothing else, the time we’re saving on commuting, and unproductive meetings allows us to explore what smart people have to say that could be relevant to the current situation. Time to show-off by dusting down those pretentious quotes!

One (a genuinely useful one) comes from the American politician Rahm Emanuel, during the 2008 financial crisis: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before”.

Eventually agencies will emerge from the current dreadful situation. As I said last week, they’ll be leaner, fitter and raring to go.

What will they look like?

The Cog Blog has been churning out weekly posts for almost 7 years. I say ‘weekly’ – even allowing for holidays (and laziness) I still average about 46 a year. Out of interest (almost certainly to no-one except me) this is post number 318.

For a large number of those I’ve been boring on about the need for media agencies to refocus their resources and efforts away from buying cheap stuff to solving clients’ business problems through a creative approach to communications planning.

Buying cheap stuff was at the start attractive as an offering. First, it’s easy to explain. Secondly it’s a compelling proposition. Thirdly, it’s measurable via audits. Fourthly it affords the agencies the opportunity to make money for themselves via rebates, kickbacks and the rest.

But there was always a huge downside – and that was that one day, for whatever reason that particular train would hit the buffers. The reason could have been through the advent of technology, the growth in online media forms, the obsession with immediate measurement and, eventually automated buying. Or it could have been that someone eventually would whistle-blow – and of course we all know that such a person emerged in Jon Mandel.

So the agencies have had to regroup. Revenue and margins were bound to fall. The difficulty in charging for services, like planning and consultancy that had been given away in the era of plenty was always going to be an issue.

And then along came this crisis.

The agencies now have a chance to reinvent themselves, to ‘do things you think you could not do before.’

It is actually an even better opportunity than that. There is now a major client demand for assistance – assistance in helping them climb out of the hole so many of them find themselves in. How, or indeed should they communicate? Where? When? Using advertising, PR, sponsorships? What should they say? And so on.

A good piece in ‘Campaign’ asked five leaders what skills they felt agencies needed to offer their clients the most, given that they will almost inevitably have to downsize.

Here are some of the words these five used (for who said what I urge you to spend two minutes reading the article): ‘Creative problem solvers’; ‘strategic and pragmatic’; ‘the ability to adapt’; ‘exceptional creative and strategic problem-solvers’; ‘bigger strategic thinking’.

Not, you will notice, ‘the supply of cheap media’.

Media agencies are full of smart problem solvers. There are also unfortunately still a fair few bullshit-artists who spend their days obfuscating and confusing everyone around them (including their clients).

Tough times are ahead, and not all agencies will survive in their current form. There will no doubt be some centralising of non-client-facing functions amongst the big holding companies.

Clients need certain agency skills more than ever before.

Now would be a very good time to work through what those needs are, how your agency can deliver to them, and what your priorities might be in transforming the business to make sure it’s fit for future purpose.

It’s also time for those Heads of Transformation to step up. I’ve often idly wondered what they do – well, I’m about to find out.

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