5 Ways Covid-19 Impacted Creative Agencies, and Which Habits Are Likely to Stick

For many, the changes of recent months were a long time coming

During our shared human experience, there are certain moments we'll never forget … events that change our paths and the way we collectively move forward. I remember quite clearly the week in early March when Covid-19 effectively locked down the United States. My business partner Lee Hunt had come to Colorado to begin product development on our CMOmarketplace concept, and longtime ally Elaine Cantwell was expected to fly out to work with us on the portal's first Showroom uploading.

With news and speculation around this "coronavirus" a little daunting, we considered it very carefully before she went ahead and made the trip that Thursday, and by Sunday, things had escalated, with travel a major uncertainty. Luckily for all of us, Lee and Elaine were able to get out of Colorado and make it back to New York and California, respectively, not realizing then just how much the world would change so quickly.

The irony is that the project we had come together to work on—a concept formed long before Covid-19—would end up being a solution for the physical distance the pandemic forced on our industry when it halted the sales trips, meetings and overall courtship between creative agencies and their media company clients. 

Since that pivotal week earlier this year, the pandemic has actually impacted creative agencies in several ways, forcing some changes that are likely to become long-term habits and others perhaps temporary, but all of it helping to shape the future of our business. From my vantage working closely with a number of agencies across all sizes and specialties, these are the most important takeaways:

The pandemic has merely amplified issues with which creative agencies were already struggling.

Like anything, businesses that were on the bubble before Covid-19 have taken the biggest hit. The pandemic just expedited what may have been in the cards for them eventually, forcing a needed refocus or restructure to keep going successfully. Those agencies most able to adapt quickly to working from home or run a little lean and mean have obviously fared better. Those with rigid structures and/or major overhead, not so much. Perhaps the most heartbreaking example I've encountered is an agency owner locked into a seven-year NYC lease at a whopping $22,000 a month and fearing lawsuits. 

Business development has shifted from aggressive outreach to a "be seen when needed" approach.

Beyond the obvious canceling of in-person sales trips for the foreseeable future, there's also been a pullback on the digital "wooing" process between creative agency and prospective client. Agency biz dev reps tell me they don't feel comfortable adding to the stress of media companies dealing with their own Covid reshuffling, so they've stopped actively outreaching. Instead, they're either relying on the tried-and-true relationships they already have or trying to find new ways to be visible 24/7 and responsive when needed.

In my opinion, this part of the business has needed improving for years, which is why we had started CMOmarketplace. Clients are always too busy, needs increasingly specific, choices overwhelming. Covid simply spotlighted a problem and forced its solution.

Live-action shoots have regrouped in imaginative ways.

Recognizing that we're months, if not years, away from a widely distributed vaccine, creative agencies have had to completely revamp the way they take on live-action shoots, with several creating socially distanced sets and Zoom-hosted video villages. Two, however, take the cake for ingenuity. Black Label Content returned to production with a science-based Covid compliance protocol they've called Let's Practice Safe Sets, while Wavemaker Creative invented a remote, plug-and-play solution billed as Crew in a Box, which brings on-air talent a professional-grade production unit controlled completely by world-class filmmakers.

Creative, solution-based design approaches are winning.

As far as actual design quality and inspiration go, I don't think that's changing all that much. Good work and clear communication always rule. What has changed are the ways we're now using design to overcome new challenges. Take sports, for example, where professional teams are playing in empty, visually barren arenas. To give its broadcasts a unique, television-friendly feel without using cardboard seat fillers, the NHL recently tapped motion design agency Undefined Creative to produce 1,000+ graphics for an impressive array of LED screens, monitors and stages around the ice.

The world is being flattened (and not in the flat-Earthers kind of way).

Physical location is no longer a qualifier for jobs. Again, I think Covid has just accelerated things that needed to be changed at some point anyway. Rarely do people go to post houses like they used to and sit in an edit suite. The days of big facilities with a lot of client services had gotten a bit tired anyway. Once we were forced to see how so much work could be done from home and became comfortable with Zoom, the idea of being location agnostic became more of a reality. Creatives have found that a lot can actually get done without the commute and locked-in schedule. As someone who has worked from home myself for 20 years, I love seeing others discover this and hearing their stories about how they make it work.

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Lori Pate
Lori Pate is partner at CMOmarketplace.

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