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If you’re an in-house marketer reading this, I genuinely hope your business is in great shape and dealing smoothly with the effects of COVID-19. (Whoever you are, I hope you’re safe and healthy and have made social distancing and obsessive hand-washing part of your routine.) But as someone who has worked in digital marketing since 2000 and has helped brands through the 9/11 aftermath and the 2008 recession, I know some of you are struggling to make sense of what comes next.
At the risk of sounding self-serving (I am the CEO of a marketing agency, after all), I can tell you this: the right agency partner can be invaluable right now. And that doesn’t mean 3Q, necessarily; there are many agencies out there with skills and determination to be great partners in this unprecedented time.
In this post, I’ll lay out the four immediate assets agencies can offer that I believe are most important to in-house marketers. (If you want more details, as well as the major trends we’ve identified in our client portfolio, you can skip right to the full guide on how to partner with an agency to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.)
In the best of times, agencies offer great flexibility to clients who need to pull back and/or increase spend from time to time – think of a fireworks retailer the month before and after Independence Day, for instance. Scaling back with an agency should be as easy as talking with your account team about resource allocation; scaling back full-time employees is a far more difficult process, emotionally and logistically.
To companies weighing the costs of building and keeping full-time teams vs. hiring agencies, my recommendation will always be to test each scenario and see which works better for the greater organization – but if you go this route, make sure you’re considering all the costs involved. The most common mistake we see brands make is that they compare agency fees to just salary. For a fair comparison, you need to be sure to add in the fully burdened labor costs of hiring, benefits, taxes, supplies, etc. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that benefits make up 37.7% of the employment costs for an employee, which means you have to tack on just about 50% to any projected salary numbers you calculate to make sure you’re looking at the right data.
Good agencies have to be great at remote communication – across offices, across teams, with clients. Part of an agency’s infrastructure is a tech stack, and part of what makes an agency tick is workforce fluency with that tech stack. At a time when everyone is working in relative isolation, agencies who can plug your company into tools like Zoom, Asana, and more can make the transition from office to home office much more smooth.
Growth Options Beyond Media
Lots of brands (including many of our clients) are seeing brand search decrease pretty significantly because of COVID-19. Many of those brands are shifting spend from search to upper-funnel channels like Facebook, but there are other growth opportunities to consider beyond media.
Performance creative ideation and testing, SEO, CRO, and content creation are all highly effective ways of either opening new ways for your customers to engage or making more from the traffic you’re already getting. And multi-touch attribution can help you determine the value of the touchpoints you’re creating – and where it makes sense to pull back spend, if that’s a necessity. Most brands I’ve worked with don’t have all of those resources and skill sets in house, but many agencies can offer any or all of those and help determine which would be most valuable for a client right now.
Asymmetric Data Advantages
Agencies have a wealth of data across their client portfolios to help them benchmark and quickly get a full picture of emerging trends, threats, and opportunities. An agency with a broad portfolio should be able to segment insights to give clients valuable knowledge that they wouldn’t see by checking their internal dashboards. Agencies that can provide at-scale analysis and help companies dig into their competitive landscape (and how it’s shifting in real time) offer a critical advantage over in-house teams tasked primarily with understanding their own business.
For instance, the apparel industry has been pummeled with lost store visits and decreased online demand in COVID-19, but for one high-volume client, we were able to identify 25-45% cost decreases in Facebook CPC and CPM early enough to help pivot spend to branding and DR campaigns to offset lost search volume.
Particularly in this time, agencies should prioritize long-term partnerships over making a quick buck. To me, this means doing the absolute best we can for our clients, even if that means responsibly pulling back spend and cutting services. If you’re an in-house marketer looking for crucial support right now, make sure to ask agencies how they can help you stay agile enough to react to the shifting landscape. The right partners will work with you to identify the right answers for your business and help you get through the COVID-19 age in the best possible shape.