Ad industry CEOs open for business and ready to tackle tough briefs

More than half of agency CEOs are confident in their ability to respond to client briefs in the next month, despite remote working, with just 8% calling for all new business activity to be put on hold. According to a survey by ID Comms, a further 19% are happy to manage new business work remotely in the initial stages, but would want to hold final presentations and negotiations face to face. This is followed by a 16% who said that the pitch process will need to be entirely rethought to work in the current climate.

The CEO survey was conducted between 19-27 March 2020 and findings are based on responses from 81 respondents. These respondents are either CEOs or new business heads, working for global agencies representing more than 80% of global ad spend. About 30% of the respondents stated they have global management responsibilities, 29% work in EMEA roles, while 23% represent North American agencies. The remaining 18% oversee APAC or LATAM agencies.

However, despite the optimism by heads, agencies are likely to be much more selective about which briefs they respond to. According to the survey, pitches that challenge the agency from a business strategy point of view would be more attractive, while pitches that aim to tackle business issues in the short and medium-term would be a source of inspiration and passion to work on.

In addition, agency heads are also seeking streamlined processes from consultants to ensure time and effort is not wasted.

An agency CEO based in US said that while timelines will naturally slow, pitches can still move forward. The agency head explained that pitch priorities will shift, and it will be important for prospects to see how nimble agencies are in manoeuvring difficult situations, while adding that consultants and prospects running their own pitches should leave options wide open for agencies to pose their own solutions to showcase their problem-solving skills.

Apart from shifting pitch priorities, agency heads are mindful of an advertiser's objective in conducting a review amid the current crisis, and will not want to work together if the purpose was to drive prices lower. An agency CEO from the EMEA region said the agency will decline immediately if the client brief is related to COVID-19 and a short term play to reduce costs.

"Additionally, we would not be keen on clients with onerous financial terms (such as longer payment terms) as this is counterproductive to the industry," an EMEA agency president said. 

Another point raised by agency heads was the concern over staff morale, as many worry about income and jobs once an account they work for is up for review. An EMEA agency chief growth officer said agencies are placing extra focus on deadline pressures given the significant daily changes in regular client deliverables, to ensure teams are not over-burdened in this trying time.

There is also concern about the processes that could be used to identify the right talent and build chemistry in a pitch that happens entirely remotely. This is one area where agencies are keen for advertisers to invest more time and energy to try and build the chemistry that is needed for a successful partnership. 

Tom Denford, CEO North America at ID Comms said the findings from the survey shows how agencies are embracing business as usual via remote working. However, he was quick to add that advertisers must be sensitive to the new reality and those looking to review agencies must adapt their processes to get the best out of agencies. "Agencies are agile and resilient, and agency CEOs are working incredibly hard right now to provide their clients with the strategic advice and support they need. One thing is clear, advertisers should not look to exploit agency desperation with a pitch to drastically cut costs or extend payment terms in the current climate,” he added. 

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