Few industries have been harder-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic than the entertainment sector. Production halts and movie theater closings put a significant strain on our business and our lives. Although production activities are resuming and theaters are beginning to reopen, the road back to “business as usual” hasn’t been an easy one and we are still far from a definitive plan and we will likely navigate many new iterations in the coming months...possibly years.
This year has been a trying one, both personally and professionally for us all. But there has been at least one silver lining to this pandemic. The shutdowns and stalled projects have given us much needed time to reflect on what’s really important in business, primarily the agency-client relationship.
Over the last eight months, we’ve actually been more intimate with our clients than ever before. We’ve met one another’s children, pets, and spouses. You’ve seen my backyard and I’ve seen your living room. We swapped stories about the trials of distance learning for our kids or caring for an aging parent who lives out of state. We’ve all connected on such a personal level that our empathy for one another has increased beyond what we could have previously imagined.
On top of the global pandemic, we’ve all faced other truly difficult and heartbreaking challenges. Together, we’ve faced civil unrest in response to racial injustice, devastating natural disasters like hurricanes and fires, and political tensions leading up to the presidential election and massive corporate restructures.
In order to survive both financially and emotionally, we need to maintain our professional friendships. We are fully invested in the survival of our clients and our competition. But we can’t do all of the work ourselves — the industry as a whole must be healthy in order for our companies to be healthy.
Here are five recommendations for things that I wish could change between agencies and their clients for more productive, supportive relationships in the post-COVID world:
Agencies should be proactive. Don’t wait for your client to come to you with a need. Bring your industry insights to the table and share what you are learning that gets results with a certain demographic or genre or even a new platform. Care about the client’s business like it’s your business, because in actuality it is.
When you engage an agency, allow them to be your partner from day one. Perhaps,instead of a pitch phase, identify a few of your trusted agencies and share your projects amongst those trusted partners. Let’s save money on pitch fees and simplify the process during these stressful times by going straight to creative development. Any trusted agency partner will want to meet your needs and exceed your expectations. This one step saves time, saves money, eliminates stress and creates an environment for stronger collaboration and more successful campaigns.
More transparency with budgets. Everyone’s budget is tight right now. Production budgets, marketing budgets, operating budgets, etc. are all shrinking. The more honest you are about your budget, the better your agency can help you develop engaging and effective campaigns. Agencies are looking at their own structures and rate cards. You’d be surprised by how flexible they can be to meet a client’s needs. The best agencies can create beautifully successful campaigns at any scale.
Share your wants and needs. Because what you want is what we want. Let your agency know what you wish for (no matter how grand or small) and what resources you have to commit towards that vision. The best agencies will work hard to honor both your vision and your bottom line. Have a boss that’s fixated on a shoot but you have limited time or budget? Allow your agency to figure out how to please your boss and make you look good. That’s our job and we love doing it!
Enable collaboration with all of your agency partners. As creatives, we are always more effective when we work together. The best agencies know how to play nice; it’s the key to longevity for the most successful agencies. Let’s take what we have learned from “we are all in this together” and apply it to business. We can achieve more creatively and strategically congruent campaigns by bringing all of your partners together to collaborate with one another.
Even before the pandemic, the ideal client-agency relationship was built on trust and transparency. Now, trust and transparency are more important than ever.
Your agency should be a transparent open book throughout the creative process. Creative agencies in the entertainment industry have never had the luxury of smoke and mirrors. We’ve always had to deliver at a high level at high speed and often at high volume. That leaves little room for posturing and facades. You should always feel comfortable asking questions about their work style, management team, or creative teams. If there is someone that you enjoy working with (or more importantly, don’t enjoy working with), let them know. If they have somehow missed the mark, you should be able to tell them — and they should want to do better.
All of us will be talking, writing, and reminiscing on this year for decades to come. Instead of only recalling the traumas of 2020, let’s also work toward building true partnerships and a culture of transparency and collaboration in our industry. That way, we’ll be able to walk away from this experience knowing that we changed the way we did business, for good.