Written by Barbara Martin, Cofounder and co-CEO of The Brand Guild
If the past few weeks have taught us anything, it’s that no one could have perfectly prepared for the fallout from coronavirus (did you purchase Communicable Disease Outbreak Insurance as part of your coverage? Yeah, me either). Even our best-laid plans seem to be falling short as entire industries grind to a halt.
As agency leaders, we are not only making crucial decisions for our own firms every day, but we’re also helping our clients navigate highly sensitive situations and make tough choices. And while the time for preparation is over, it’s still not too late to protect your business and your clients.
Here’s my playbook for steeling your agency — and your partners — against the effects of the pandemic:
1. Plan Agency Moves Based on Current Facts
Before my cofounder and I launched our agency, my boss for nearly a decade (at a large media conglomerate) was a brilliant and fair but tough Marine. “Don’t sandbag me, either way” was his steely-eyed advice whenever I came into his office to present budgets or data. What he meant was, take emotion out of the equation and have an honest conversation with yourself about where things stand now and where you think things are headed, based on your knowledge of your business and the data in front of you. If you budget too high, you’ll have to make hard decisions later (see Step 2). Project your budget too low, and you won’t have the right team in place to do the work. While none of us are fortune tellers, building a plan based on the facts on hand — and not what you hope for —is going to serve you and your team far better in the long run.
Once you have a plan, don’t be afraid to execute it, even if it means restructuring or altering job descriptions to cover all your bases. Keeping your business afloat for the next 90 days will mean confidently enacting your plan once you’ve made educated decisions. Since circumstances are changing every day as this situation evolves, you may end up in a different final place than you originally anticipated. But know that your decisions will be based on better and better data with each passing day.
2. Have the tough conversations with clients and team
Don’t shy away from having tough discussions; they’re only going to compound with time. Are you still waiting on a signed contract? Ask now. If it needs to come out of your budget, the earlier you know, the better. Get on the phone with every client you have, proactively offer solutions to help and gauge where they stand. Be a vault and a sounding board for them to talk through the immediate future. Then help them build internal and external communication strategies that allow them to get in front of the issue.
Are there hard conversations you need to have with your team? You’re best to have them asap before potentially negative WFH habits set in. Your team will work better without ambiguity about what’s next. And at the very least, while you may not have all the definitive answers right now, you can be transparent about the process.
3. Review Your Expenses
Look through your expenses and cut where you can as soon as you can. The quicker you make decisions about what you do (and don’t) realllllly need to spend, the better decisions you will make for your team moving forward. One trap to avoid: Remember that a lot of your vendors will be flexible about payment schedules — but those payments will still come due. So don’t look to deferred payments as a panacea to avoid making tough calls.
Get on the phone with every client you have, proactively offer solutions to help and gauge where they stand.
4. Prepare to “Go In House”
. Create an actionable plan that requires your client to answer as few questions as possible for you. Ask for an org chart, get permission to reach out directly to key leadership across departments, have quick touch-base conversations, then build an internal flowchart of how to get what you need for your storytelling strategy. Now more than ever is the time to prove your value to your clients — you’re far less valuable to an organization if people inside the company have to spend their limited time hunting down answers for you.
5. Kindness Counts
We’re all going through this together. Any stress that you’re feeling, your clients are feeling, too–and your team is feeling tenfold. Make the effort to be careful with each other. As the agency, you set the tone for your working client relationships. Remember that when it comes to your team morale most of all.
Barbara Martin is cofounder and co-CEO of The Brand Guild, a full-service public relations, marketing, events and creative agency of choice for market makers pushing their way to scale and for market leaders breathing new energy into their organizations. The Brand Guild builds strategies that leverage a blend of critical skills and expertise that get clients – including Sweetgreen, Room & Board and The Wharf – measurable results. In her currently very limited spare time, she is also the creator of the political Peep Instagram @wethepeeple.