Indie Agencies in the Time of Covid: Why It's Our Time to Shine

People really are our most valuable asset

If the Covid-19 crisis has taught us anything, it is that our industry will never be the same. At least, I hope that's the case.

For so long, agency leaders have talked about how their greatest asset goes up and down in the elevators every night. Now, not only are people no longer riding elevators in an office, many of them no longer have a job. 

It's been a true test of agency leaders putting their money where their mouths are—just how invaluable are their people? Just how important are those assets who go up and down in elevators every day?

As someone who once worked for a publicly traded holding company, I've now had the opportunity to see what it's like to be independent at a time like this.

And boy, what a joy.

For one thing, being independent has enabled our agency to invest in our most valuable asset—our people. When necessary, we have been willing to sacrifice short-term profits to ensure our successful team remains together. Consequently, our staff count is unchanged. And if talent is a true differentiator, then we believe we have gained an upper hand. What's more, we are not alone—I see it across other independent agencies. It's their moment to shine. And I wouldn't be surprised if many of the people furloughed from holding companies find homes in smaller, independent shops.

For another, being independent has enabled us to be nimble and react quickly to changes in the workplace. For example, last year we invested in hiring a full-time media expert so we can handle media in-house. As a result, we've been able to change our media plans on the fly, target new audiences, change our messaging, expand partners and adjust spending, Similarly, we have been able to more fully leverage our experience in e-commerce—a particularly useful service offering as clients have recognized the need to reexamine their retail options. And like many agencies, we've deepened our in-house production capabilities. We can create work safely, quickly and efficiently.

Taken together, these in-house capabilities have resulted in new assignments from existing clients, as well as new business. 

As for working remotely, well, that's something that has been baked into our DNA. Several of our key staff have always lived out of state. That's not to diminish the importance or value of in-person collaboration. But it sure gave us a leg up on our competition, who were trying to adapt to working remotely on the fly. It also doesn't hurt that our founders own our workspace. When it comes time to reopen, we'll have much greater control over how we do it and what precautions we can put in place to ensure our people are safe—right down to taking the stairs.

In short, in times of crisis, businesses have an opportunity to pause, reflect and reassess what's truly important. Just as clients are using this time to determine what they need from their agency partners, I am hopeful this virus will remind agencies that it's the people who are the difference—who enable us to do the work that will deliver the most creative and effective solutions for clients. At Hanson Dodge, we had a great 2019, and that momentum continued into the first quarter of this year. When Covid-19 hit, protecting the group that created this momentum became our No. 1 priority. 

Because people really are an agency's most valuable asset … they are not expendable. Even if they no longer go up and down in an elevator.

Profile picture for user Stacie Boney
Stacie Boney
Stacie Boney is president of Hanson Dodge in Milwaukee.

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