Opening an Agency in a Pandemic

5 lessons from an impossible launch

Everyone said launching agency would be hard. Well, they never launched during a pandemic, did they? It isn't hard, it's almost fucking impossible. You'd have to be crazy, you'd have to be courageously naive, you'd have to ... well, you'd have to have quit your job already and be way too embarrassed to ask for it back. 

So here are a few helpful hints for anyone who wants to start a wildly successful agency in the midst of a pandemic. Whether they are correct or not, only time will tell.

Love the one you're with.

Imagine being in a plane and it's about to crash. You want the absolute best co-pilot flying that plane with you. You want to trust that they know what they are doing implicitly, without question. You have to love them and want to save them as much as you want to save yourself. You must put your mask on first. 

Wait, I lost track of my own dumb analogy. The point is, pandemic or no pandemic, these are the people I believe in. These are the people I respect so much I would open an agency with them while we are all lying in bed on Zoom. They are that smart. I want them to succeed more than I want myself to. How's that for a purpose?

Rely on your creativity more than you've ever needed to before. 

It's a funny thing about creative people. The bigger the problem, the better we get. Well, we have a pretty big problem on our hands. But it has supercharged us. It has our minds racing with 3 a.m. texts. We came up with an entire campaign for our Kids Help Phone client by texts in hours. "Letters from the Pandemic." Capturing children's letters, supporting each other online in a cyber support vs. cyber bulling campaign. Capturing this historic time with their words.

We executed and launched it in days. All from our homes, covered in kids and dogs. As kids were being isolated from their friends and playgrounds were covered in police tape, one girl's letter stood out with a quote from Lewis Carroll: "'Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality." She may be our first intern, when she turns 12.

WHY????

We were just about to launch, our whole philosophy ready to share out. Why our crazy name? Would our purpose resonate? We met with CMOs around North America. Were we on to something? They thought so! We set up our photo shoot. We were so excited, it was palpable. We thought about potential clients we would love to have. We thought of marketers we admired and would love to work with. We met in hotel lobbies. We met in dark, beer-drenched taverns. Just as we were about to open our door … it was slammed shut. 

We signed our shareholder agreement with masks on. We got together for the first and last time in our new offices. We had to alter our execution—FAST. But our reason for being did not change. If anything, it became stronger. I'm so glad we did all that strategy work on ourselves upfront. We know who we are, how to act, how to go forward. So yes, we've changed everything about how we launch, but we have not changed why.

Be happy you're not robots.

In one way it would be great to be robots, because we would be immune to this terrible illness. But in another way, these times call for humanity and creative thinking more than ever. One CMO we met with said, "If you told me your story two weeks ago, it wouldn't have resonated as much as it does now. I realize that I had machines running, and when I turned them off they weren't able to adapt. They can't help me solve. Or create."

Count your blessings.

Sooooo, it does feel weird talking about ourselves right now, and even weirder talking about advertising. Being a doctor, like our parents wanted, is clearly more noble, or a grocery cashier.The list goes on. We didn't choose to open in a pandemic, but we must carry on like so many other small businesses. 

In some ways we feel fortunate that we are still able to launch. As we keep saying, our business is ideas and we don't have to have specialized equipment or be in the same room, although that would be nice. We do think brands can step up now to do the right thing today and prepare for better days ahead. So many great brands are already leading the way. The creative business thinkers are donating stadiums to the Red Cross, switching factories to create masks, building ventilators, offering special hours for the vulnerable to shop. When it comes to business, nothing will be the same—but maybe nothing should be the same. Maybe we can be better.

Lastly, we have to blame all the amazing mentors we all had. They taught and inspired and supported us so much, we thought we could actually take all that learning and put it to good use. So here we are. And we have been absolutely blown away by those who have been so incredibly generous with their kindness and time and support during this time. The only thing no one really taught us was how to open in a pandemic.

So we did what anyone would do. We looked to Churchill. "We shall draw from the heart of suffering itself the means of inspiration and survival."

Profile picture for user Denise Rossetto
Denise Rossetto
Denise Rossetto is partner and chief creative officer of Broken Heart Love Affair.

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