The COVID-19 pandemic is turning out to be the ultimate disrupter in transforming the advertising and marketing industry, creating the opportunity for StrawberryFrog founder Scott Goodson to rethink previously accepted norms.
“How can you do things that you haven't in the past?” says Goodson. “It's a scary time but it's also an exciting time. It's really important to ask questions.
And he’s been asking a lot questions. “Maybe there are smarter ways of doing things, for example maybe we don’t need our huge office space in the Empire Space Building. Maybe we don’t need to come together every day to work in the ways we've done in the past.”
He says these are issues Adland should be asking post-pandemic. “The market has changed. We are chasing squirrels now and need to be adept and nimble. It isn’t about hunting down the big elephant or lion. We have to accelerate our change because we have no choice.”
For StrawberryFrog, it's about doing purpose-driven branding and “activating that purpose” through what he calls "movement marketing."
"So many CEOs and CMOs have toothless brand purpose strategies,” he says. “This pandemic is showing that those who will thrive will have activated their purpose strategies. They are in strategic recovery mode, not frozen in fear or reacting to the crisis with panic. They are moving forward from a position of strength.”
Over the past few years StrawberryFrog has embraced new models and procedures to meet changing client demands. It is less about the “big bold ad campaign" and more about bringing a brand purpose to life in fresh and imaginative ways. He points out client Northwell Health's work during the pandemic which has been built around its focus that patients are partners in health. This translated well into advertising and marketing during the COVID crisis in New York with the campaign "Information is healthy, fear is not."
“This is leadership, and standing on top of a solid purpose. This isn’t as easy as it sounds," he adds. “But with a purpose you can lay a strong foundation and activate it with a movement that engages everyone from stakeholders to the workers, and shareholders - and drive radical growth.
The NY-based agency doesn’t participate in traditional pitch reviews these days. Most of its clients are referrals or those specifically seeking out its version of “movement marketing” rather than traditional advertising. Moreover, the shop is evenly split between external brand marketing campaigns and internal movements focused on transforming the corporate culture.
Goodson is reimagining his internal structure. He feels this crisis will accelerate the transition away from the old-fashioned “Mad Men” model to develop new ways of working. His lean team of 60 full-time employees is supported with a robust network of contractors — “the great elastic band of talent that is out there who we've been working with for over 20 years,” he explains.
“Clients expect strategic and creative
excellence and we do this whilst doing more with less.”
Goodson believes agency leaders are readjusting their tactics for the future. “This remote work transition has really killed the autocratic dictatorship style of company leadership,” he states.
A good company leader is inspiring and more of a coach who can motivate a lot of people over Zoom, and empower leadership across the organization. “The old patriarchal mindset where you don’t trust your employees and must keep an eye on them at all times is over.”
He adds we will see change will come from the “bottom up” or “middle out” but we are unlikely to see “top down mandates” anymore.
He ponders the relevance of big “ego-gratification” headquarters of many agencies. “That hallucination is over,” he states. He speculates how a holding company CEO can justify to the CFO a $3 million lobby refurbishment during a time when those things don’t matter to clients. “How can he justify the money to polish up that titanium elevator bank?”
I can humbly say I learnt this the hard way.
My agency had to reinvent itself about 18 months ago, well pre covid and I made the decision to that we didn't need an office space. It wasn't so much about cost however.
My theory was that by not having an HQ, suddenly Bray & Co would have access to the best talent from everywhere as everyone worked from home as the norm. We have a creative director in LA, our head of SEO in Brazil, designers in Cincinnati and Chicago, myself everywhere . . . you get the drift. So far so good, we have little rituals and systems in place to make it all seamless, and the clients only really care about the results. If we are in the business of selling ideas, then ideas really should live everywhere.