Dec 18, 2020 Design + Creative

The Best Agency Advice for 2021 (Based on What We Learned in 2020)

Here at the end of 2020, agencies resoundingly have a positive outlook for 2021. And agency leaders we’ve talked to have voiced a strong sense of the path forward. There’s good reason for it, too.

The distribution of COVID-19 vaccines obviously provides a great deal of hope in itself. And even though the global scale of that rollout may be slow, the shared wisdom developed over 2020 adds a clearer perspective for how to continue through the pandemic and beyond. What’s been learned from these hard times can be applied to the good times as well.

So in that spirit, we’re looking back at what’s been shared with us, and sharing it with you. From interviews, panels, and surveys conducted over the course of the year, we assembled these five key pieces of advice for agencies looking to grow in 2021.

A graphic with each of the headings below laid out in panels.

1. Define Your Team’s Use of Communication Tools

The remote workplace often feels like the early days of open offices: disorganized, noisy, and prone to drift. Plus, we all hold drastically different ideas of how to use the space and its tools. Take the time to evaluate what leads to the most productive uses for your team and get everyone on the same page.

As Tom Beck, Executive Director of the digital-agency network SoDA, says, “It’s not the technology that’s the challenge. It’s developing new structures, formats and ways of interacting – adapting, connecting, and collaborating in a virtual environment.”

Establishing guidance goes a long way in boosting the viability of the digital workspace. How should your team choose between email, messaging, video conferencing, project tracking, and whatever other tools you’re using? Document best practices and uses. Share them.

An example from Alvaro Insignares of Koombea: “Slack, Zoom, Calendar: In this order. You will be tempted to have a lot of meetings, so always prepare an agenda beforehand and use Slack for the rest.”

"It's not the technology that's the challenge."

2. Stay Checked In with Employees and Clients

Remote working inherently means you won’t inadvertently run across people in hallways or spontaneously grab coffee with a partner because you’re in the neighborhood.

When you can’t get a sense of people’s mental state based on their physical presence, it’s not an excuse to simply not pay attention. Whether it’s with an employee or a client, check in with people you value collaborating with however you can.

During our Empowering Women in a Time of COVID-19 webinar, Ali Kane emphasized this step from an employee perspective, “Make sure everyone’s okay and that we aren’t losing talent to burnout and imposter syndrome.” Kane, a former Director at Facebook, spoke about reduced workloads and increased stresses for many fields during the pandemic causing employees to deeply doubt their abilities.

Keeping a pulse on people also applies to your relationships with clients. Across Media Temple’s webinars this year, panelists echoed the sentiment that keeping in touch often revealed ways the agency could assist, both in business opportunities and friendly advice.

In a time where simple day-to-day acts of social empathy don’t come as naturally, each small act has more impact.

"Make sure everyone's okay."

3. Know Your Strengths (and How to Extend Them)

Completely reinventing yourself is practically impossible. And if nothing else, it takes time … That’s time you don’t have when change strikes, as the pandemic has proved. But you can seize opportunity more quickly by holding a clear understanding of where you excel and how it might be utilized outside of what you’re currently doing.

According to John Harris of Worldwide Partners, “If you’re going to pivot, you first and foremost have to pivot from a position of strength. Evaluate your position of strength, whether that’s a service, offering, or a category. Match those up with the categories and services that are thriving.”

Even if you never face another change of the magnitude of this pandemic, maintaining a clear vision of what makes your operation unique is the lifeblood of a successful agency.

Kingsley Taylor of Digitas puts it this way, “There are so many different types of clients. I just think it’s very important for an agency to land on what its culture and its personality and its unique differentiation is. You have to have something that marks you out as different and something that makes you buyable.”

"Pivot from a position of strength."

4. Read the (Zoom) Room

In some ways, video conferencing tools bring us closer than we’ve ever been before – even if we’re not breathing the same air. We see into our professional contacts’ homes, with family life buzzing around/behind/into them. A panel of full-face displays shows us every participant’s responses constantly, too. The experience for audience and presenter alike can be more challenging because of those things.

This calls for new approaches – both in serving unique challenges and exposing the weaknesses in the old modes.

Reflect on and analyze your presentations from 2020, and make adjustments. Learn when and how to adjust based on your audiences’ sometimes subtle signals. If nothing else, pare things back – even if you keep the nitty gritty details at the ready.

Here’s Kingsley Taylor during our New Client Pitch Process webinar: “At agencies, we often disappear up our backsides when it comes to complex mechanics and approaches. And really when you’re presenting on Zoom, you have to make things simple and lean more into storytelling rather than going through a number of different charts and slides.”

Simplicity wins.

"Make things simple."

5. Embrace Your Network

“It’s the agency’s responsibility to alleviate any complexity to draw in resources from their network. The political walls have dropped between agencies,” says Leigh Armstong, a longtime brand director at numerous agencies.

Your agency doesn’t have to be everything to everyone, and you’ll be stronger with a focused identity. But being able to provide some guidance to the right answer always builds your value in the eyes of a client. And it opens you to reciprocal referrals from other agencies.

Armstrong sums it up best: “New business is really up to everybody to have eyes, ears, and relationships on tap.”

"The political walls have dropped"

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