Virtual wins, inter-agency collaboration and new property plans

By Stephen Knight, CEO and founder, Pimento,

It’s almost impossible to make it through a day without a discussion around the ‘new normal’ and how adaptability is going to be crucial for business continuity in these unprecedented times. But, as the concept of a ‘hybrid office’ is increasingly finding itself embedded in industry semantics, there has been a real shift towards embracing a more flexible daily routine.

While COVID-19 may have forced many companies’ hands when it comes to embracing the virtual meeting and remote working trend, it has unfortunately had an adverse effect on many marketing budgets – seeing them reduced by up to 70%.

We are in no way through this challenging period, but it has become apparent that cross-team creativity is crucial to deliver client projects on time, on budget and on brief – especially in the case of agencies. Here, Stephen Knight, founder of independent agency network Pimento, looks at how the firm’s own research has highlighted a shift in the marcomms mindset.

Team-wide collaboration and ‘thinking-outside-the-box’ has undoubtedly been key in helping many creative organisations to weather the current storm. And, as a virtual marcomms agency ourselves, we were keen to understand how our peers were working and coping.

Throughout August, we ran a study in conjunction with MAAG, PRCA and Harbour, to establish how – and where – the UK creative sector has continued to thrive, despite the challenges faced by the pandemic.

Although we expected to see results that might make for uncomfortable reading, we were pleasantly surprised to receive promising results – with many using the hurdles of COVID-19 as a springboard to explore new ideas and ways of working.

Inter-agency collaboration is key

One significant trend was the number of independent agencies (81%) that had won work virtually for the first time ever.

As well as more projects being awarded over video calls instead of face-to-face meetings during the lockdown, our research also found that 92% of independent agencies have either collaborated with another agency on a brief, or would now be happy to, should the opportunity arise.

The main reasons behind marcomms companies favouring this joined-up approach, it seems, are to fill skills gaps their team doesn’t have (77%), provide the best client experience (44%), aid creativity (33%) and foster a more flexible working culture (17%).

Only 8.5% confessed to preferring to keep all projects in house.

Other revelations from the survey include almost half of agencies (44%) disagreeing that colleagues need to be in the same physical place to be creative.

But with collaboration remaining a hot topic – and 53% of respondents revealing they now have spare space in their current premises for additional bodies – this perhaps goes some way to explaining why 77% of people said they would consider sharing offices with another agency.

Post-pandemic property plans

The results also showed a shift in agency mindset when it comes to preferred working locations. 60% of respondents confessed to working mainly from the office prior to lockdown, whereas 72% admitted they will now look to split their 9-5 time between the office and home.

Only 15% of people want to continue working from the company headquarters full time, while 17% want to permanently operate remotely.

Agencies are clearly continuing to adapt the way they function, in order to remain buoyant in the marketplace, with many challenging the ‘traditional’ office concept. I believe this trend will only continue on its upward journey.

What does the future hold?

The pandemic has undoubtedly uncovered the power of virtual communications – and not solely within our own industry. While agencies were collaborating years before COVID-19, the present situation has highlighted the need to accelerate this, in order to thrive in the current climate.

As the research indicates, harnessing the ‘era of the specialist’ is crucial for agencies. Every business has a niche – something it’s really great at – and joining forces with other professionals to deliver clients’ projects, not only helps foster high-quality output, but strengthens the foundations of our sector as a whole.

Creativity doesn’t just happen due to being in the same four walls as your peers, it’s the people and their skills which bring briefs to life, no matter where they are in the world. And the fact so many agencies have teamed up and are open to sharing projects, is a trend we’ll definitely be reading more about over the coming months.

Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash

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