Agency Darwinism: Will Covid-19 force the agency world to drag itself into the future?

By Jessica Hodgson

TIPi Group


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September 7, 2020 | 7 min read

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change."


Agency Darwinism: Will Covid-19 force the agency world to drag itself into the future?

Charles Darwin

Us agency folk like to think of ourselves as forward-thinking, and we constantly extol the virtues of new technology to our clients. However, we are also an industry steeped in nostalgia, and many of us gaze back through rose-tinted glasses at the bygone eras of mythologised titans like Bernbach and Ogilvy.

Media has undeniably morphed into a different animal since the advent of ‘digital’, but how much has the way we work actually changed?

Will Covid-19 prove to be the catalyst for positive evolution?

Historically, many media and performance agencies have enjoyed a heavily office-centric culture and ways of working. While flexi working has always been a popular perk, many of us still relied on in-person collaboration and communication.

However, over the past few months, we have all been thrown into a new norm and have had to get to grips with it at lightning speed. As a result, many have fully embraced the new methods intrinsic to working from home and this enforced period of remote working has proved to be a surprisingly successful launch pad for a new working model for many businesses, with agencies being no exception.


With less face-to-face time available with clients, agencies may move towards regional, or even offshore, options. More flexible and remote working, could provide the catalyst that has been needed to accelerate the industry’s inclusiveness. Many agencies will not solely consider a London based work-force but employ those from various geographical locations, and also different lifestyles than before. It could be more realistic for working parents or those with disabilities that are unable to travel, for example to re-enter the job market and work either full or part time from home.

This change will hopefully enable ad land to be less of an echo chamber and benefit from greater diversity, making it more representative of the wider population and thus more effective at communicating with them.

Creativity and flexibility in our approach

Will flexible ways of working lead to greater creative output?

The daily grind of commuting and rigid work schedules can strip creative headspace for some. This new norm may lead to not only greater creativity in our actual work, but also creativity around how we work; exploring new approaches and ways of working which may lead to even better output. We have the freedom to figure out what works for our businesses to get to where we want to be, without restriction. Lockdown has forced agencies to introduce huge operational shifts across strategies, lines of communication, approach, and implementation, and in some cases look at the business as a whole - flexing or scaling back accordingly.

We have the opportunity to ask ourselves, what will be the very best way to approach things and act accordingly, without an accepted ‘norm’ limiting this.

Product offering

We have also had to ask ourselves; do we still have the correct product offering for the new market and our clients, or do we need to expand in certain product lines or service offerings?

At the start of the pandemic we spoke to many of our clients about tech innovation to support their businesses as they adapted to consumers new priorities, and quickly developed a proposition with our voice agency Rabbit & Pork for clients to use to support their call centres, automating responses to simple questions, enabling customer support staff to focus on more complex queries.

We are increasingly talking to clients about more project based work and are seeing great success in our web development & design agency Kitty, with many brands focusing on developing their website either to offer more information to users who are conducting more research during this period of uncertainty or those who are looking to drive more revenue from their website, particularly if they have bricks & mortar real estate. We are continuing to adapt our offering ; joining forces with tech partners and digital transformation companies to deliver end to end for our clients.

Margins and efficiency

We saw a shift in C-suite focus between Q1 and Q2 of this year, with CFOs at the start of the year focusing on cost cutting and where possible minimising the pandemic’s impact to their business whereas the focus in Q2 was to increase their revenues after lockdown; albeit with a now different business shape.

Those agencies best positioned to survive (and thrive) are those nimble enough to flex their operating models to meet the rapidly changing needs of clients and revised focus. Due to our strong partnerships with our clients we have been able to provide flexible commercial arrangements to support our clients through difficult periods of the pandemic, ensuring continuity of agency service.

In order for us to do this we needed to take a look at our margins, and where we are able to be flexible; naturally this is focused around cost base reduction. A central London office that used to house 70 members of agency staff may not be necessary in totality for a year or more. We have seen tech giant Google allowing their staff to work from home until at least July 2021. This coupled with increased productivity from having a more flexible ratio of working from home and working from the office means that we are seeing more tasks being accomplished in the same number of hours.

There will still be requirements for collaborative in-person working, however a huge amount can be completed with a well planned out virtual team meeting and we’re encouraging our staff to think ahead of meetings, as well as during to ensure proactive outcomes.

Added value for us now is as much about using the time that was spent commuting, or travelling longer distances for meetings to improve our processes for collaborative virtual working, with increasingly more creative ideas of how we can work for and with our clients. Quicker more regular contact with our clients has enabled us to truly be partners with our clients, perhaps more so than before.

Jessica Hodgson, group client services director, TIPi Group


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