Feb 8, 2022 Work + Life

The Business of Change

Even on their best days, humans struggle with change. So do businesses. And the pandemic wasn’t the year’s next “hottest fad,” it was an existential threat from nature itself. When the pandemic hit, we all watched as some companies easily adapted, some struggled and made it through, and some were dead on their feet.

Fortunately, as an agency, change is our day job. We thrive in chaos, pushing through fear and ambiguity to create opportunity. Every day we’re fighting side-by-side with our clients to help them survive and design the future. While the last two years have taught us that nothing is certain, here are a few things we’re confident about.

Agencies are more adaptive. Historically, we’re considered the frenetic energy in a partnership. We’re the ones who come in, shake things up, and drive innovation. Now we’re proving that we can be a stabilizing force, too. When businesses are reducing and reallocating headcounts, we’re there to help steady the ship and set the sails. When digital is more important than ever, we’re not only there to say what should be done, we’re there to do the work. For many during this time, a partner who can control the chaos is actually more valuable than one who drives disruption. But agencies should be able to do both.

The value of disruption is still high. That’s because disruption breeds opportunity. People are losing their taste for anything inauthentic. We’ve seen genuinely interesting opportunities fail because they weren’t believable. The idea that you can easily and quickly change one facet of your brand and succeed in today’s times is risky. If you try, customers will see it as a stunt. Or worse, they’ll think it’s disingenuous. And if they don’t believe in the change, they won’t believe in the brand. What customers really want is authenticity and consistency. So how can we help brands be disruptive in a way customers will embrace?

Focus on the holistic experience. We have to get good at identifying and articulating the human needs that drive a businesses purpose. Digging into the human needs is more than choosing the right shaped button – this work requires a fascination with what makes us tick and a willingness to embrace intangible qualities alongside verified proof points. A plan that considers both, and places their needs across every micro and macro touchpoint, is holistic. There may be pushback on this approach. It’s human to put action before insight. Action feels good in the moment – you’re taking charge. But action alone doesn’t inspire loyalty or payoff in the long run. Brands must remain true in all their forms, across all their platforms. Those that do will win their customers’ love and loyalty.

Holistic isn’t the easy path, but it offers a better payoff. Done well, it’s just as fast and cost efficient as blunt action. But it does require a different type of relationship between brands and agencies.

Integrated partnerships are the new agency/client relationship. The old transactional agency/client relationship just doesn’t work anymore. One silver lining of the pandemic is that new pressures and overnight changes drove us and our clients closer together. Mutual trust and collaboration became the foundation of the new agency/client relationship. No more working in secret to present a grand reveal. That approach wastes time and often requires avoidable rework. Being fast and being good means abandoning formality and rolling up our sleeves together. We finally have the true partnerships we always craved with our clients. And the work that’s coming out of these partnerships makes you question why we did it the other way for so long.

The reality is that change is a constant and current circumstances make agencies more needed than ever. Those who can be both disruptive and stabilizing will be sought after. Those that champion authenticity and holism will win hearts and minds. Those that insist on true partnerships over transactional ones will be doing the best work.

The pandemic gave us an extra push, that is sure. People are bringing more humanity and desire for connection to the workplace. It’s overflowing into everything we do. Everything we’re talking about sums up to one common thread–human-centered design is becoming more human. Adaptability, authenticity, holism, and connection are some of the best things about humanity. Let’s embrace their bold entrance into our work.


This article is part of the Society of Digital Agencies (SoDA) 2021 “The Next Model Agency” report.  It is republished here on the Media Temple blog with permission from SoDA. SoDA serves as a network and voice for entrepreneurs and innovators around the globe who are creating the future of marketing and digital experiences. To learn more about SoDA and its other initiatives, please visit www.sodaspeaks.com

About the Author Born and raised in small-town Texas, John developed a deep interest and passion for internet technologies at a young age, connecting him to the worlds of art, design, and community. Collaborating with a small group of friends with a shared vision, John co-founded and became the CEO of Handsome in 2012. In addition to leading and guiding the agency with his vision and industry insight, John collaborates with and advises several local startups, technology and design organizations, and non-profits in the Austin area. More by this Author