We're interested in knowing how people and companies are faring under the crisis. This week, we checked in with Andrew Eklund, founder and CEO of Ciceron, and Kari Helling, Ciceron's VP of agency experience.
MP: How do you see the crisis affecting the marketing world in general and then, some specifics?
Eklund (exhales loudly): It's a really hard question for me to answer and let me tell you why. Frankly, we're benefiting from what's going on right now. And that's a hard thing to swab in your brain that, god forbid, it took a global pandemic for the business to turn around but that's what happened for us. We're a digital agency so we've always been about what's working. We have retail clients so as soon as they started closing the retail locations ... we have people in the medical field who hold lots of drives and in-person events and all of those shut down, especially on college campuses. College campuses closed down. So, basically, everybody went home and went on their phones and their laptops and their iPads and we're all sitting in front of the screens that we are always managing.
We are extraordinarily busy right now. In fact, we're busier than we have been since November of last year. In terms of day to day at Ciceron, yes, we're all remote for three weeks. We've made those adjustments and obviously a lot of our budgets are changing a lot right now. That's the macro view of it. Some of the clients who are working with us very, very closely now who ... maybe they had retail and they close their retail and we're literally selling out their warehouses ... doing sales and outlet sales for the e-commerce clients.
MP: Is that the kind of stuff that you're doing for them, helping them sell online?
Eklund: They've always had an online presence, it's just now that's the only thing they've got. It's a quick pivot.
Helling: Some of these things are things that we believed for years for some of these clients. Because we watch the data, because of the tools that we use, we have hoped to lead them to these places years ago. Now, by necessity, they're switching strategy but we've been ready for them to do it much sooner. It's easier to get projects approved because it's now a necessity.
Eklund: As you know we've been heavy in the music business. We work with Warner Records and a bunch of different labels and all the tours are canceled. All the media appearances on Jimmy Fallon ... they're all canceled. We've always been part of streaming revenue, that's the only thing we've ever overseen. Essentially, we're the only revenue stream for the music business.
We've always been a stay-at-home agency. Others are out-of-home agencies, we're a stay-at-home agency. I'm not saying I like it this way, don't get me wrong. I like multichannel, I want my clients to open up their retail locations again.
Our number one value at Ciceron before the pandemic was "have empathy." You can imagine that it's firing on overtime right now. There's no sense of pride, no sense of gloating, we don't allow it at the agency. We've very happy to have an agency that is for the time being safe, financially in a good position, not having to let people go. [We are] experiencing the culture pains about not being able to be with each other and support each other because we all have families. We have friends who are getting sick, we have children at home who wonder where their friends are and how their teachers are doing.
I've been talking about this since last August when I gave that presentation for MediaPost called "Welcome to the Shit Show." I thought something was going to take the economy down this year. I didn't know what it was. Trade wars or something. And I gave this presentation about here's what happened post 9/11, here's what happened post 2009, and if it happens in 2020, this is what we expect will happen and it's happened. It's crazy.
To a certain extent, we've been preparing our clients for something since at least last August. We had no idea it would be this. But the trends were generally right. The number one thing we figured would happen would be the rise of streaming video and streaming audio. That is absolutely the case. If you look at the numbers coming out of CTV right now and Spotify, Pandora, all of that, they're only on the rise in terms of listenership and viewership. Upfronts have been canceled, the new fronts have, I think, been canceled. The prediction that we made was that everything was going to go into a biddable format that offered advertisers maximum flexibility in order to move dollars around on a performance basis without having to sign long-term contracts. That's exactly what's happening right now.
MP: It sounds like you had your finger on the pulse. Almost accidentally, along with some knowledge that you've built up over the years and experience that you've had. It's a lucky thing for your company.
Eklund: Luck is a good word. Luck is a word I use all the time.
MP: How are you keeping your spirits up there? I see you have Spirit Week!
Helling: This is our second week of Spirit Week. We gave it a rest last week but it's back by popular demand. Today was Dress Like a Coworker Day. Spirit Week is kind of a classic, high school version of Sports Day, Orange Day. Zoom backgrounds.
Eklund: We had Adult Coloring Book and Happy Hour on Friday.
Helling: We're so lucky that our culture was intact before this happened. I can imagine if you were at an agency that didn't have that connection and love, this would be very hard. We had already established so much of our own language and activity, I can't imagine trying to manufacture that in this universe.
Eklund: A lot of employees call Ciceron their family and I bet some people enjoy going to the office more than they like being home sometimes, especially if you've got four kids literally crawling all over you. We're giving people plenty of opportunity to cry. Or to be freaked out.
A really interesting dynamic that I'm playing close attention to is the relationships that we have with our clients right now are super close and super intimate. You're having calls where you can see their kids running around in the background. They're calling from a bedroom or a family room or whatever and it's the most human time. Everybody is going through a common experience. It feels like post 9/11, right? We're already as a management team talking about when we go back to normal, what are some things that we've learned during this time that we hope doesn't go away? That's one of those things. I think our relationships with our clients are going to fundamentally change on a human level.
Videoconferencing. We've all learned that if you can't be together, you have to see the whites of their eyes. You have to see the smiles. Even if it's going back to them sitting in their cubes, white walls in the background. Those are some things we're not going to want to change. The idea that meetings don't have to be a half hour or an hour. They can be quick, five-minute check-ins and that's good enough. There's some efficiencies that we might gain through this.
MP: I read something about how after World Wars I and II, there was a surge in creativity afterward, Art Deco coming after World War I and what came after World War II, the way cars were designed. Do you think we might having something like that in store for us after this?
Eklund: It's going to be massive. The amount of art that's going to be created during this time. The number of interesting companies that are going to come out of this. Out of 2009 came Uber and so many DTC companies. Netflix. A lot of companies that are household brand names came out of that. The amount of music that's being created now for our record label clients ... Childish Gambino launched a record this morning. My favorite band, Phish, dropped a record last week nobody knew about.
It's going to be a huge blossoming. What I'm really hopeful for is, do we attain some sense of community out of all this versus the fierce individualism of the America that we think of ourselves as [being]. The reason why our curve isn't flattening as fast in America as it is elsewhere is that we have a freedom problem. Our sense of community is second to the individual. When you get yourself into a pandemic, you realize that individualism can kill people quite literally.
Coming out of this is what we learn about us as a society and the interconnectiveness of us all. And how much we really lean on each other to make the most simple things happen. We have an office in L.A. There's no traffic and the air is clean. People are going to like that. We could have this all the time if we got off the coal-based energy. It was only theoretical before.
We've all been waiting to get out of the Dark Ages we've been in and get into this Renaissance time and I hope it happens.