As soon as the prospect of a recession looms, agencies start bemoaning the profession, knowing that clients’ CFOs will have their fingers poised to delete the marketing budget row in their spreadsheet. Despite our best efforts to convince our clients to trade out of these tough times, we all sense our budgets are immediately under threat.
A pandemic is different from a recession, clearly, but the dynamics are similar. As soon as we realised the severity of the situation, we did what many other agencies did: battened down the hatches, cut all non-essential spend and planned how to survive.
Off the back of a record year in 2019, we had grand plans for 2020. A stable and long-standing client roster, an engaged team, a healthy pipeline and a breakthrough marketing budget, most of which we’d committed to Marketing Week.
In less than a month we went from projected 20%-plus growth to deciphering how to keep everyone in a job for as long as possible. Some clients stopped spending with immediate effect, some clients kept going, but our Q2 forecast dropped 66%.
While tightening our belts and ceasing all non-essential spend provided confidence, our commitment to Marketing Week posed us some tough questions. Should we postpone it or even knock it on the head?
I suppose it’s the advice (OK, the pleas) we give clients to trade through the down-times that risks hypocrisy. But this is an unprecedented global emergency, the biggest crisis we’ve faced as a nation since World War II, so how can we justify spending money when we’ve just furloughed 17 people?
Risk is something all agency heads must learn to become comfortable with. Perhaps our Australian managing director is right (as my older brother, he normally is) when he claims on our blog that, in an environment of widespread disruption, there’s never been a better time to launch a startup. And perhaps this is also the best time to confront risk and back yourself, whatever the business.
Our agency has survived several recessions and numerous other challenges in our 41-year history. We’ve grown organically over that time and remained fiercely independent. We’ve built a rock-solid balance sheet with zero gearing. You only truly appreciate that position when times are tough, and they don’t get tougher than this.
So, having committed to a plan to keep every single one of our people employed for at least three months, we also have to keep one eye on recovery, on our future. We have to believe we will come through this stronger.
So here we are, honouring our commitment to Marketing Week by advertising our Post Pandemic Planning Workshop (details below). This is a change to our original plan of activity, but we hope we don’t appear too opportunistic or too worthy with our overall viewpoint; we just wanted to walk the walk and not expect clients to do something we weren’t prepared to do ourselves.
And, as Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson so eloquently wrote recently, the brands that continue spending or even increase their spend, gain market share and enjoy the upside for the following decade. We’re not sure we can increase our spend with Marketing Week right now, but we will honour our existing commitment and, by doing so, will avoid being shit – at least in Mark Ritson’s eyes. Let’s hope that our aspirations are able to grow from here.
Post Pandemic Planning Workshop
Five by Five’s 90-minute online workshop is a standalone exercise to help you gain alignment in your team and/or organisation for how you’ll navigate the ‘new normal’. We use robust collaboration tools and expert facilitation to help deliver consensus on where you are and where you want to be.
Global research has categorised people as either anxious or accepting of the situation, so our workshop will help you plan through the lenses of ‘help and support’ and ‘safety and security’ – two key mindsets that will be held in the marketplace by consumers when assessing brands, products and services.
Please contact Sarah Strange if you would like to discuss on email@example.com
Nick Lawton is CEO of Five by Five and chairman of Lawton Comms Group.