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Media Agency Strategy During The Pandemic


Independent media agencies, without the resources of the big holding company agencies, moved quickly to ensure their staff and businesses survived the coronavirus crisis.

Many, with the agreement of employees, cut working hours, and quickly moved to remote working.

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The big holding companies did the same in March when lockdowns began. Many, such as WPP AUNZ, have since returned to full pay and incentives. Others are continuing, not yet sure of the economic road ahead. 

Gary Nissim, managing director of Indago Digital, says some staff, although highly intelligent and educated, don’t engage with current affairs. They don’t read the business pages.

“For that reason they are not always fully aware of the threat COVID has on the economy, Indago’s clients, Indago itself and in turn, their jobs,” he says.

The agency was one of, if not the first, agency to introduce a four day week.

“We had to educate our staff that this early move was not a knee jerk reaction or because the business was in trouble,” says Nissim.

“It was a strategy to provide all of us with long term job security.

“Since then we have made it our business to help educate them through regular email communication and a weekly COVID-19 meeting where we discuss both our own policies and what is happening globally and locally.

Nick Grinberg, head of strategy at Next & Co, says the approach with staff was to be open about the impact of the virus.

“We just told them what we know, when we know it and kept them updated as things evolved,” says Grinberg.

“Our staff understood that they may have to do more to help our clients through this time which may result in extra hours worked.

“We have been more mindful to encourage conversations about mental health during this period and have more frequent check-in’s, as well as inviting our team to come forward with any questions/concerns they have.”

Angie Smith, managing director, MediaSmiths, says the agency was lucky to be able to quickly switch to working remotely.

“All our systems are web-based and all team members have laptops so we made the decision in
March as the pandemic unfolded to immediately adopt COVID-19 policies into the business and request staff to work from home until the government advised we could return,” she says.

“We were open to any questions they had and have implemented flexible working to support them as we started to return to the office when things opened up again. They have all been extremely wonderful about it and I’m very grateful.”

Communication was the biggest issue.

“Our team wanted to return to the office for that human connection and collaboration as soon as we were able,” she says.

“It has also been challenging to connect with clients and vendors who are working remotely as some do not like Zoom (or similar).

“The human connection is such an important part of our business and this virus unfortunately has taken away that element.

“We’ll continue to make do with online meetings for as long as needed but looking forward to more face-to-face opportunities when it’s safer.”

Michael Petersen, CEO, Pivotus, says the company value is “absolute honesty” and that’s what the staff received.

“It can almost be an experience of too much information rather than too little at Pivotus,” he says.

“We ramped up video updates from me and a series of regular one on ones and account meetings with staff.”

The team approved a 20% drop in hours and salary for two months.

“I’m proud to say that we didn’t make anyone redundant or have to stand anyone down.”

And the business model didn’t drastically change with COVID-19 restrictions.

“We’ve all worked remotely for the last five years but client meetings came to a halt pretty quickly on March 15,” he says.

He produced a video for clients giving an overview of the agency’s structure and plans.

“It’s actually been interesting seeing clients deal with remote working – some have fully embraced it and been able to benefit from our experience in working this way,” he says.

Loan Morris, CEO, iNC Digital Media, says team morale and engagement was quite high from the start.

“However, to further build trust and understanding of the real threat the pandemic caused to our agency we decided to be extremely open and honest with our team and even disclosed our P&L,” says Morris.

“This provided a sense of responsibility to all our staff members and showed them how much they were helping us survive by supporting our business decisions.”

Morris says the challenge also reinforced the agency’s position with most clients.

“They have been able to truly lean on us for industry insights and guidance to navigate this period,” Morris says.

“The power of partnering up with an independent agency that is as focused as them on their bottom line, ensuring they come through the other side, has really demonstrated how much value indies can add to SMEs.

“It also really moved the conversation away from purely looking at our fees to understanding why they would want to pay a fee for this service and added value generated.”

Sarah Melrose, general manager, ADMATIC, says the conversation with staff was open and honest at all times.

Staff at offices in Sydney, Auckland and Melbourne experienced different stages of the pandemic at different times.

“We’ve recently gone back to the office one day a week in Sydney as a trial, but
we’ve found that our people unanimously prefer to continue working from home,” says Melrose.

“We are all now very comfortable with the flexibility that working from home brings.

“If you’d asked me six months ago whether we could function with the whole team out of office, I would never have believed it, but here we are – a fully functioning, productive WFH team.”

Working virtually allows the agency to pull in the best talent for meetings and projects, regardless of where those people are located.

“Of course, ADMATIC could have done this before, and we certainly had the technology, but it really took a pandemic to fully appreciate this,” she says

“Although WFH life is working well, new client meetings and pitches are still a challenge over Zoom. There are many things missing from a traditional face-to-face meeting – the connection is lost (sometimes literally).”

Phil Benedictus, CEO, Benedictus Media Buying & Planning, says his agency played it safe and went into lockdown a few of weeks before NSW.

“Operationally, the team were already routinely holding video conference meetings with most clients and using tools like Slack and Trello internally so in functional terms the move to remote working was reassuringly smooth,” he says.

The key approach has been a lot more virtual meetings to allow discussion, keep up morale and keep working optimally as a team.

“Full team Zoom WIPs three times a week, and weekly digital team WIPs, Managers’ WIPs, Marketing/Bus Dev WIPs, Client WIPs,” he says.

“I also called around for virtual one on one tea/drinks with each team member to check in during lockdown.

“Also important has been keeping up team social functions: Virtual fancy dress team drinks and games on Fridays under lockdown, face-to-face events now we are working to a hybrid model. Similarly face to face meetings with clients/media where possible.”

He says remote working allows efficient use of time. No commute, no travel times to meetings. Less time spent on make-up and getting dressed.

“From a human perspective I think it has made the team appreciate each other and each other’s company even more and to value the enjoyment we get from doing great work together as a team,” he says.

But the lack of face-to-face contact does negatively impact, from training to driving new business.

“We are also very aware of the impact that lockdown and the uncertainty of the pandemic has had generally on mental wellbeing society-wide and the need to find ways to keep up team morale and check everyone is ok,” he says.

Credit: adnews.com.au

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