Amp spotlight: How agencies are coping with the coronavirus
For the past few months, the novel coronavirus has reached across the globe and touched nearly every aspect of day-to-day life—from grocery shopping to interacting with loved ones, working out and, well, working—in ways no one could have anticipated. With losses predicted in the billions for the advertising industry, individual agencies are facing a challenging road ahead. (Follow the latest agency moves related to COVID-19, updated daily, here.)
But while it's difficult to predict when a return to normalcy can begin, the task at hand remains: How to nimbly adapt to a new work-from-home reality? While existing digital infrastructure has made the transition easier on some agencies—especially those with experience working through times of crisis or natural disaster—the ad world, like nearly every industry on earth, is finding its footing. One thing has held true across the Amp community: People come first.
“Our agency closed our offices in Los Angeles, New York and Denver two weeks before mandatory shutdowns, for the safety of our employees,” says Jason Mitchell, founder and CEO of Movement Strategy. “This also allowed us to get a jump on the work from home transition, so as everyone else made the switch, we were already situated and ready to help our clients as they went through their own transitions.” Agencies have had to make a swift shift to remote working models, prioritizing the health of employees and clients and doing their part to plank the curve.
The timing has been more challenging for some than others: “Night After Night closed our doors and shifted to mandatory work from home the week before St. Patrick’s Day, in our busiest time with our biggest client, Jameson Irish Whiskey,” explains Elliott Phear, CEO of the New York-based agency. “I wanted to make the call early so our team had the option to relocate if needed or make the proper arrangements in terms of setting up their home offices before the city went further into lockdown mode.”
Maintaining physical and psychological well-being
Another concern for agencies has been not only the physical health of staffers, but maintaining good mental health while on lockdown, without the face-to-face collaboration and daily interactions of agency life. “Isolation can be very unsettling for many of us,” says Parks Blackwell, VP of marketing and client development at PMG. The agency took a proactive approach by giving each employee a stipend to be applied toward building out their home office as well as developing an internal resource hub offering suggestions for maintaining physical and psychological well-being, balancing work with personal life and parenthood, industry trends and more. “Our teams have even gone so far as to host virtual happy hours with our customers and co-workers in an effort to return to some sense of normalcy,” says Blackwell.
New York’s StrawberryFrog has taken a similar approach to ensure the lines between work and home don’t become completely obscured. “We blocked time on employees’ calendars reserved for daily breaks and weekly company-wide meetings to promote team morale and communicate important updates,” says CEO Scott Goodson.
Welcome to Zoom culture
Clear communication has been another major theme in agency approaches to weathering this period. “In times of uncertainty, people don’t necessarily want just the good news—they want clarity,” says ThreeSixtyEight CEO and Co-Founder Kenny Nguyen, who has embraced the opportunity to tackle tough conversations and strengthen leadership.
To get those communications across, and maintain some semblance of day-to-day normalcy, reliance on technology has never been greater. For some digitally-driven agencies, that shift from physical to virtual hasn’t required much adjustment. “The pandemic didn’t really change the way we work,” says Luca Lorenzini, co-founder and executive creative director at SMALL, where video conferencing and remote meet-ups have been part of the company from its outset. “We had to simply continue doing what we were doing.”
Agencies anchored in digital operations like The Experience Design Studio and Erich & Kallman have found the transition to be more or less seamless:
“Being digital natives, the transition has been easy thus far,” says XDS Co-Founder Shai Reichert.
“We designed the agency to be a remote workforce so flipping the switch back to remote couldn’t have been easier for us,” explains E&K Chief Growth Officer Kate Higgins.
Goodbye recession playbook, hello zombie survival handbook
Still, the novel coronavirus has thrown the industry a curveball unlike any it has seen. “The recession playbook has been thrown out the window with COVID-19 because it’s so different,” says Admirable Devil chief strategy officer Joel Johnson. For the Devil, like many other agencies across the country, that has meant taking a hard look inward at the core values that drive their business. “Now’s a good time to read up on purpose—it’s more than just a buzzword at such times,” says Johnson, who is keeping spirits up with a bit of levity. “Naturally, we’re fielding calls about boosting zombie awareness."