5 growth predictions for Digital PR Agencies in 2021

By Natasha Hill, Managing Director at Bottle.

As we get ready to break for Christmas, reflecting on the past year, it’s so tempting to use a bunch of adjectives, angry emojis and expletives.

We didn’t expect the year we had. We would have done anything to change it. But I am a cup half full person and whilst that’s been challenged (a lot) this year, COVID-19 hasn’t beaten it out of me.

So, without disregarding the tangible hardship and heartache that’s been felt by everyone to some degree or another, I’m leaning forward – with a growth mindset – optimistic that we will recover, better.

The experience of this unprecedented (our favourite word of 2020) year has taught us so much. But there is no vaccine to protect against the economic crisis. However, growth will recover, for resilient, agile and creative brands and agencies.

As a recent joint owner of an agency*, these are my (cup half full) growth predictions for 2021:

(*side note: myself and Colin Cather bought out our major shareholder of Bottle on March 11 this year – so yes, there have been some rather hairy moments but we’re proud to have survived (so far) with 95% of clients and 100% of team members still with us.)

1: Marketing budgets will struggle to grow following the 5% decline in 2020

Only digital had a (small) growth of 0.3%. And budgets will continue to be directed to online channels (which makes me happy). Brands will be seeking not just digital reach, but digitally-led experiential activations to attract and stay front of mind. Agencies who know that you don’t need an IRL ‘stunt’ to be distinctive and build fame, will be awarded the chunky campaign budgets.

2: Earned and social channels have been the lifeline for brands this year

Marketing teams will have seen what they can deliver – in many cases – in isolation of other media channels during 2020 (ooh, the econometric modelling potential in that unprecedented media laydown). They are influential, agile, authentic and can achieve cost effective impact at both ends of the sales funnel. 2020 may have (finally) been the year they proved their role within the omnichannel mix.

3: Agility becomes the King of Capability

Plans will keep changing as the context changes. Short-termism is usually a negative phrase. In 2021, it’s a pragmatic one – until things become more predictable. The brands (and agencies) that win, will be the ones that keep changing plans to stay culturally relevant and in tune with the changing emotions and attitudes of their audience. Something that felt ‘right’ last week, could be oh so easily wrong the next.

4: Kindness will continue to increase its contribution in commercial success

Kindness for the planet, employees, supplier relations, customers and society as a whole. Brands that are generous, will get repaid with strength and stature. And senior leaders of agencies who adopt a permanent, flexible working arrangement, will enjoy increased levels of initiative, productivity and loyalty.

5: In, out, shake-it all about

Agency contracts will have been stretched to point of snapping this year. I suspect this will create a peak of new business opportunities during Q1, as marketing teams (should already have) reviewed their budgets, strategies and agency rosters.

Agencies who, during the crisis, have shown flexibility, transparency and a willingness to put their profit margins on furlough, will be rewarded this year with client retention. Others could find themselves on a hamster wheel of pitches for short-term projects as many brands apply a cautious approach to re-contracting and seek to benefit from the hunger in the supply chain.

So, as I say farewell (and a few other choice words) to 2020. I’m raising my to 2021. Let’s stay positive.

PS. My glass is filled way past the half-way line right up to the top.

“The future is so much bigger than the past” Tim Berners-Lee 

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