Agencies need to help clients through the coronavirus Twilight Zone. Here’s how

Brands need agencies now more than ever. Here, former agency boss Chris Savage offers advice to agency leaders on what clients will want from them in the coming months.

Agency leaders, take heart. Our clients need us, and what we can deliver to their businesses, now more than ever. But we need to tread cautiously.

There is vibrant opportunity for creative, communications and marketing technology agencies during COVID-19. However, we must be careful and strategic in the way we engage, respond and offer our ideas, today and tomorrow.

I don’t have a crystal ball, but this is how I see the phases and focus for ‘selling ideas’ to clients for the next few months.

twilight zone

Clients are currently in ‘The Twilight Zone’

This roadmap and phasing should help your team to ‘get in the groove’. Use it to shape your internal narrative, and to categorise where you are finding work that adds value, and filling your pipeline, with each client, every day.

I see three phases for ‘selling ideas’ ahead. The first two are within our reach now. Phase Two has two parts. Here’s the plot.

Phase One: The crisis

This is where we are now. Turmoil, with some settling down.

Working from home. Getting used to the kids. Finding toilet paper. Who is looking after Granny?

Zooms all day. Managing client chaos and cutbacks of work. Dealing with cost pressures. Making hard decisions. Recalibrating. Recalibrating. Trying to manage our personal fear.

The client world reality is just the same. Looking for direction from the leaders. Not sure what’s next. This will last, say, another 10 days.

Phase Two: The recovery

Part A: The Twilight Zone

This is the next few months. I don’t know how many months exactly, but plan for four. Minimum. I call it The Twilight Zone. Largely WFH. More severe lock-downs.

This is where we need to be brilliant, ‘energising’ our clients with sharp ideas to help them engage, market, and sell in The Twilight Zone when most consumers are at home.

Ideas need to add value and solve real problems for them now. Look for the work, not budgets. We have to get our client brands into the homes of Australians, in the right way. To sell their products and services now, in new ways, to build goodwill, and also to build up massive interest and demand so that their sales pipeline is bursting at the seams for when we move into…

Part B: The New Dawn

This is when, slowly, things begin to move back into gear – second gear,  maybe clicking into third after a while. People moving in the streets again, some work from the office, planes flying, travel for short holidays within Oz. Maybe schools will be back.

Life will not be 100% back to normal, no way. No international travel. Many oldies still inside the home. Coronavirus likely still about but under more control (fingers crossed). But it won’t be 95% WFH and lock-down. It’s going to be a long ‘in between phase’.

So as we sell ideas to clients for The Twilight Zone, start working with them on what their businesses will look like and how they need to market and engage in ‘The New Dawn’.

There is not going to be a clear jump from The Twilight Zone to a New Reality (see Phase Three below). There will be a long New Dawn weird half on/half off period.  It will require fresh and new marketing strategy and comms. Yes – an opportunity for us.

Phase Three: The new reality

This is what happens later. Much later. No idea and too far away. God willing, we are all here to see it.

Now is the time to sell. But sell with the right tone and with the phases I have outlined in mind.

It might not work out the way I’ve outlined – but it’s a good starting point now for structuring your approach to selling ideas that will make a difference to our clients.

Stay safe. We can do this.

Chris Savage is the former chief operating officer of STW Group (now WPP) and was the founding staff member of Ogilvy PR Australia


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