How are agencies coping during the pandemic?

With Covid-19 very much still present in our lives, at Comtec we’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the good, the bad and the thankfully not too ugly from the past 10 months. Whilst our personal and professional lives have been in a state of flux since March, even in the bleakest of times, we can look for good.

So, how do you make the most out of a crisis? That’s the question we’ve been asking both ourselves and our friends at creative agencies, who operate in a very similar way to us.

Despite living in such turbulent times, both Comtec and our clients have achieved a great deal this year. By reflecting on the changes that 2020 has brought, we not only hope to celebrate the resilience of our peers, but share lessons for the future.

Operation: work from home (WFH)

Let’s start with the obvious; more of us than ever have been WFH. This has had a direct impact on agency life. We’re now navigating the operational changes alongside cultural shifts. At Comtec, the former has meant becoming as paperless as possible. This means that all our digital notes and documents can be shared and collaborated on, no matter where the team is.

Sam King, Account Director at Jaywing, shared that the move to remote felt seamless for them. Their team already operates across locations and so the technology was already in place. But what about interactions? Whilst there are “more Zoom meetings than there were physical meetings”, he feels the team is more productive between them. This sentiment is shared by many of the people we spoke to. They agreed that whilst WFH has its downsides, with fewer distractions, more work is getting done.

Sparking Creativity

On the flipside, creativity has been more of a challenge. Have you ever been stuck on an idea, and then you bump into a colleague over the coffee machine: they say something brilliant that you hadn’t thought of and ta-dah, problem solved. This is something Charlie Inman, Creative Director at Mother has really been missing. Without those serendipitous watercooler moments that lead to ideas and actions, there is a sense of creative loss.

Lucy Almond and the team at The&Partnership have also been tackling this problem. To combat it, they invite other team members to sit in on different client meetings to help bring a new perspective. A fresh set of eyes helps the team spark new ideas and find creative solutions. Our team at Comtec have always followed this approach, with ‘project boards’ in place for team members to consult and offer advice to their colleagues when working on complex or high-profile projects. It’s still very much been a core part of our approach this year, albeit over Zoom!

Gareth Westhead, Head of Digital at UPP, shared with us how his team have a ‘thought of the day’. Each team member shares a thought at the end of their daily meetings – it can be about anything from Covid, Trump to F1 – to generate discussion amongst the group. This was put in place to inspire creative thinking and get people to consider different perspectives.

Keeping company culture alive

How do you keep culture connected when your team is apart? All the agencies we spoke to agreed that contact is essential. Matt Laybourn, Digital Performance Director at TMW Unlimited & TMW Business, told us that team leaders check in with their teams 3-4 times a day. John Hudson, Operations Director at Bray Leino shared how they have set up a drop-in centre so people can actually go to the office, following social distancing guidelines of course. This means they can get support and have human interaction when they need it, to support the wellbeing of the team.

Whether we wanted to or not, many of us will have joined at least one Zoom pub quiz this year. This is how many companies are keeping the social culture of their organisations alive. At Comtec we’ve introduced weekly highlights meetings, to share knowledge and positive news. We’ve also succumbed to the virtual pub quiz, as well as team pizza parties and using Slack to stay in touch.

For many of the people we spoke to, the appetite for bingo and quizzes quickly depleted. Now, as we enter a second lockdown, it seems a hybrid approach would be best. Everyone we spoke to said it’s important to try and keep a sense of togetherness and being part of a wider team, particularly if you have new starters. Ged Leigh, Regional Director at The Marketing Centre, suggests that internal comms and over communication are needed to keep culture and productivity intact.

With that in mind, keep communications channels open and maybe limit the pub quiz to once a month to avoid Zoom fatigue. Or, why not mix things up by organising virtual cocktail making or an escape room?

Working with clients

With uncertainty the word of the day, managing the internal team is just one of the big changes we’ve seen this year. For many of us we’ve also had to pivot how we provide our services and interact with clients.

The unofficial slogan during this pandemic for many brands has been “in it together” and that seems to be the case for agencies and their clients. Client budgets have been under scrutiny, so our agencies have been working much more collaboratively and openly with brands, helping to advise them on where and what to invest in. For those working in advertising, this meant a shift from out of home (billboards and events) to in home and digital (TV and social media).

Sarah Salter, Head of Innovation at Wavemaker has really enjoyed seeing the innovations in response to the pandemic. “Clients are re-focussing on what they are spending and looking at how they can use technology to improve user experience.” For one such client Wavemaker used Augmented Reality solutions and filters to engage audiences before and after concerts.

At Comtec we’ve continued to innovate technology, making it easier to facilitate client projects and reviews. We’ve also adapted our interpretation service to offer simultaneous (remote) interpreting over Zoom.

While some agencies have mentioned that clients have been more understanding than usual about timescales and other restrictions, others have seen clients focussing more on campaign efficiency and measurability; Kevin Doutzenberg at Krow East told us that “in pre-pandemic times, some clients may have been hesitant about A/B testing for budget or timing reasons, but they are now embracing it to get better and more efficient results in the long run.”

The impact of the pandemic on creative work hasn’t just been on how and where it’s delivered, but the what. Sam King told us that they’re having to pay special attention to tone and messaging. Brands want to appear supportive and avoid the hard sell. The difficulty here is, how do you refresh messaging and ToV to keep things interesting? We’ve collaborated closely with a lot of our agency clients this year to tackle this challenge. A rise in the need for transcreation of marketing and advertising comms has led to a greater focus on truly adapting messaging for international campaigns. It’s been crucial to retain the brand spirit, but also ensure the campaigns are truly impactful for local audiences. In light of this growing trend, we recently delivered a webinar – Creativity in Translation: The process behind Transcreation – to share our top tips and guidance.

The future is ours

In 2020 it’s felt like a week hasn’t passed without someone saying the word ‘uncertain’. Whilst we may not know what lies ahead, we do know that we’re inventive and resilient. If we take the lessons shared by our peers and continue to adapt and find creative solutions, we won’t just be treading water but riding the wave.

Our top takeaways are:

  • Over-communicate. Keep in touch with your teams and help them stay connected.
  • Don’t overdo the mass team video socials. Opt for a hybrid of smaller coffee meetings and virtual ‘drop-ins’, alongside the occasional pub quiz.
  • Mix it up. Add a fresh set of eyes to your remote brainstorming sessions. You’ll spark new ideas and ensure team members are mixing outside of projects.
  • Add value. Help clients to reassess their output. Guide them with what they should be saying and where they should be saying it. They’ll appreciate your expertise more than ever in these strange times.
  • Be inventive. Whether that’s coming up with team-building activities or testing new ideas for clients. Use this uncertain time to try something new.

Thank you to everyone who spoke to us and shared their experience of agency life in times of the pandemic. If you are working with international clients and think that translation could help them connect to different markets during this time, please get in touch.

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