Agencies Adjust To Client 'Holding Patterns'

As COVID-19 continues to disrupt daily life, ad agency leaders are working around-the-clock to communicate with their teams about new policies and procedures, as well as clients about their evolving marketing plans and adjusting accordingly. 

 “Working through a new form of collaboration in a virtual world takes time, protocols, patience and a lot of positive intent among colleagues and clients,” explains one agency CEO.

While ad executives admit they are taking it “day by day,” for the most part, few report any broad COVID-19 budget cuts, as of yet. 

Many explain their clients are reallocating spend where it makes more sense. For instance, one larger agency mentioned several clients have moved away from OOH and experiential events to instead focus more on traditional and social media. Another says clients are changing live event activations to become digital.

"Work is still moving,” says one client lead executive. In fact, his agency is currently “in production planning” for one major client.



Actual production is another matter. While many agency teams are working remotely, there are no actual film shoots taking place. Another leader adds his agency has stopped trying to negotiate for talent and brand sponsorship support explaining that it was impossible to coordinate all of the necessary parts. “No one is returning calls like that,” he wryly jokes.

It’s anybody’s guess how long the production delays will last. Those delays impact other parts of the supply chain: No fresh creative content means no post-production work, and so on.

While some pitches have been postponed, some say their reviews are still on-going. “We think most of our clients are in a bit of a holding pattern on their overall activity,” says one executive. He adds, “They haven't pulled back or canceled anything.”

Internally, agency leaders are attempting to keep things as normal as possible. Many say they are still hiring, though candidate interviews are virtual rather than in person. For the most part agency leaders say they are refraining from layoffs at least for now believing it is unethical to do so during this time of crisis.

Consultants and freelancers are taking the hardest hit as agencies attempt to limit non-essential spending during the pandemic.


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