Navigating Your Small Agency Through a Recession

We All Know What Gets Cut First in Hard Times

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
We've all heard the recessionary drum beats for many months now. And judging by what's happening in the housing, automotive, retail and manufacturing sectors, we may already be in a recession.

Those are scary words for any business. Especially so for a small-to-mid-size marketing-communications agency.

After all, what do clients cut first when business turns south? All together now: "Advertising!" We won't dwell on why or how counter-intuitive that reaction is. What I want to focus on here is what to do to get through one successfully.

For some strange reason, my agency, Brownstein Group, has actually grown through the last three recessions. I'm knocking on wood as I write those words. I believe there are some tips that you can apply from our experience that will help you steer your shop through choppy economic waters.
  • Secure your client relationships. I know you always work hard to delight your clients; we all do. But now is the time to work even harder to ensure that your agency is doing everything it can to help your clients succeed. Are you being as proactive as you can be? Does your account management team have good chemistry with your clients? Are you sure? Are you looking for new ways to stretch their budgets? Out-thinking versus out-spending is simply good business. By navigating your clients through a recession, you will take your own shop along for the ride.

  • Keep your staff slightly lean. This is no time to over-staff your agency. The last thing you want to do is have to lay off good people if a piece of business doesn't come in or a client suddenly makes a big budget cut.

  • Focus your new-business efforts on industries that are still thriving in tough economic times. technology, luxury goods, off-price retailers, health care, personal finance and higher education typically thrive in any economy, but especially when consumer spending tightens up.

  • Focus efforts on organic growth. Are there new services your agency could provide to your existing clients? When was the last time you gave a capabilities presentation to your long-time clients? I bet you'll open some eyes -- and generate some new business without the heavy investment of a pitch.

  • Cut capital spending at your shop. If you don't have to make a capital expenditure now, you may want to put it off until a later time. At our shop, there are certain capital expenditures that we have already budgeted and are prepared to allocate this year. But I suspect we won't add too many new ones to that shopping list, until we get a clearer picture of what the economy is doing.

  • Finally, continue to create brilliant work. In my experience, the best remedy for a soft economy is just doing what you do best, and never losing focus of that. Great ideas make the phone ring.
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