Sony V. Mathew
Guest Article

Small agencies can overcome lockdown blues

The Coronavirus pandemic has opened an opportunity for small and medium advertising agencies to add value to their services... from the desk of Sony V. Mathew.

Small/medium advertising agencies, which rely on SME/MSME businessmen, could feel the pinch, while tackling the after effects of the Coronavirus pandemic. By proper application of mind, there are ways to overcome the blues. This crisis, in fact, has opened an opportunity for them (the agencies) to add value to their services. All they need to do is, tighten some loose ends in their armour. As advertising is a talent-driven, or relationship-driven, business, it’s important for small/medium agencies to keep promising talents (have full confidence in them). Leaving them in the lurch may open new opportunities for them, and they could easily walk away with your bread-winner client.

This is also an opportunity for the agencies to think and add more value to their clients for the fee they charge. From a PPT-oriented approach, based on the clients’ brief, to solve short-term challenges, the agencies should act as a mentor to guide them through challenging times. A hand-holding approach at an affordable cost will breathe a new lease of fresh air to the clients’ businesses and, thereby, the agency can underscore their value and cement a long-term relationship with them. Agencies should play an active role in strategic areas, like mid/senior level recruitment, framing questions for interviews, training and performance review of sales/marketing staff, setting processes to improve efficiency, identifying location of new touch points, etc. All this apart from normal work that comes under all aspects of branding and advertisements. With their expertise in handling clients from diversified segments, the agencies could add value on a variety of fronts. They should also focus on building their capabilities on the digital/BTL fronts, apart from executing liaising works on behalf of the clients. Instead of recruiting new resources, existing ones can be better equipped by building on new efficiencies and, thereby, deriving the desired output.

Forward-looking agencies should take this as an opportunity to function as the client's marketing/branding ear. Assigning tasks to employees during lockdown would be a good way to go. Employees in the strategic planning department could be asked to conduct brand health of major clients by dialling 30-50 existing/potential customers in their network. Questionnaires should be framed in such a manner that strength of the brands is ascertained vis-a-vis its competition. The compounded effect of this exercise could be more than a handful for the clients, who consider feedback as the biggest gift, and a report based on this will give immense value addition to them. Also, client servicing guys can be asked to shortlist clients who are still advertising in print, TV or other means to understand who all are eager to stay relevant in a crisis. After the lockdown, while pitching for those advertisers, it’s important to cover their competitors also, as they would also be mulling over strategies to generate demand. Likewise, if the creative department is relatively free of regular work, it can be engaged by asking it to come up with some imaginary creatives based on a particular brief, or asking it to redesign some proven concepts/designs well received by the public.

Considering the impact of the crisis, focusing on low-cost BTL activities (after the lockdown) could be one way to revive demand, apart from digital. ATL activities may not be feasible immediately after the lockdown for SME or MSME clients. As I mentioned earlier, building new efficiencies will be key for the agencies, as SME/MSME clients may not resort to multiple agencies for some time to meet their marketing needs. BTL and digital could be the way forward for some time. If the BTL activity is a success, it can be replicated in other potential regions.

This is also an opportunity to underscore the importance of retainership, which gives more benefit to the client, than a project-based approach. Agencies can also come up with new product suggestions/service improvements/business models that could help the clients to tide over the crisis. Anyway, 70-80 per cent of the budget allocated should be earmarked for generating demand, which is the best way to revive the economy.

(Sony V. Mathew is an alumnus of IIM-K, and an independent brand consultant based out of Kerala. He is the chief brand consultant to ESAF Small Finance Bank.)