2020's gift: a moment of reflection

By David Lillington, Managing director

Reading Room


The Drum Network article

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December 1, 2020 | 5 min read

2020 has been a challenging year, one that has forced many agencies to reinvent themselves on the fly. David Lillington believes that agencies which have used this time to reflect will be stronger for it when the next crisis emerges.


As with many businesses, the pandemic has given us the impetus, and the time, to reflect.

We are already a distributed organisation, so were lucky to have the technology and the processes in place for this way of working. This allowed us to quickly shift our focus toward planning for a different future when the lockdown took hold.

We invested time into evaluating how different sectors were responding to the crisis, which organisations were succeeding, and the potential challenges that our clients were likely to face in the short, medium, and long-term.

The pandemic is fast-tracking a trend we were already re-shaping the business to address. Clients are increasingly moving away from traditional transactional exchanges, and instead seeking a consultative relationship, regardless of agency size or specialism.

The businesses adapting quickly to this crisis, the ones that will continue to thrive, are seeking strategic advisors, not order-takers.

As many organisations strive to understand the implications of embarking on digital transformation in such a short time frame, and what implications this has for their customers, they are increasingly in need of tried-and-tested expertise to help them overcome these challenges.

Acknowledging this need, and with more time to invest in deeper thinking for our clients, we have accelerated the expansion of our strategic offering over the last few months, cementing Reading Room as a research-led digital consultancy.

We’ve strengthened the integration of our service areas, so that our work delivers broader value to the client. User research and discovery processes are now led jointly by communications and UX specialists.

This deeper integration between teams allows us to unlock insight very early on that can inform and create a rationale for multiple streams of strategy and digital transformation work. It ensures we are always looking at business challenges holistically, regardless of the original brief, by bringing together diverse mindsets and expertise from the outset.

The economic turmoil created by Covid-19 has also revealed a clear demand that is not being met at the opposite end of the market.

Better together

There are ambitious, high growth businesses out there that require the expertise and support of a national agency to survive, but don’t have the budget to attract them. As with our enterprise clients, they want a strategic partner to help them define their trajectory and build a digital roadmap to achieve it. But they also want an approach that balances ambition with budget, and can adapt to changing economic circumstances. They need lightweight solutions right now, but want the capability to scale quickly as soon as their business gets the opportunity to grow.

With these two clear market opportunities emerging over the last few months, we have re-shaped and clarified how Reading Room sits alongside our marketing agency brand – Fat Media. This means we can offer a way for new brands to navigate their immediate challenges, but also become a long-term digital partner to enable growth.

With the marketing budget often first to be culled during unstable economic times, it is tempting for agencies to join a ‘race to the bottom’ in a bid to under-cut rivals and clamber for a shrinking pot of marketing spend.

Rather than leaping into a pricing war, as this pandemic-induced recession starts to bite, we challenge agencies to think hard about what it is that clients really value, and what should be realistically relinquished to the client’s in-house team.

We ask clients to work with their partners using an open, collaborative approach towards solving business problems, rather than increasing pressure to deliver the same scope on a smaller budget. We invite long-term thinking over short-term solutions.

It will be the businesses that value evidence-led planning, flexibility to pivot, and diversity of thinking that weather this storm. Those that invest in partners who can offer this expertise will have the resilience to survive and grow, despite an increasingly complex, unpredictable future.

David Lillington, managing director of Reading Room


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