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Why agencies are more relevant than ever

In-house teams need help, especially during the pandemic.

It’s not unusual to see companies slash their advertising and marketing budgets as soon as a business downturn looms, and the COVID-19 health crisis has been no exception. In addition, today a slew of companies have taken more and more of their communications and marketing activities in-house in a move to save money and keep staff jobs intact. “Obviously, the latter motivation — saving jobs — is important in these uncertain times,” says Amanda Hellman, Managing Director & Partner at Fred & Farid New York, “but on the saving money front….rejecting agency input out-of-hand is a false economy and can leave companies behind the competition and out of touch with clients.

Let’s examine the situation.

There are justifications for taking work in-house. It can save time and money: the in-house team is already a cohesive unit. They know each other; they know the company; they’re already being paid, and that money is already in the budget. Then there’s the time saved by eliminating the need to communicate with an agency — all the “back-and-forthing” that goes into explaining concepts and ideas. “We’ve all been there, and it can be time-consuming,” admits Severine Autret, Managing Director & Partner at Fred & Farid Paris, “but, then again, this is usually only a one-time exercise — getting everyone up to speed and on the same page. And it’s worth the effort because thereafter the agency can move into new territories on the client’s behalf.

Agencies are Talent Beehives

Then there’s the energy and creativity that resides within agencies, not to mention a broader perspective on the entire market. “Agencies are beehives of talent,” says Nicolas Berthier, Creative Director at Fred & Farid Los Angeles. “The best talent resides in agencies. They have had to compete and triumph in myriad fields.” Additionally, agencies have a broad range of experience with almost every kind of business challenge. They understand and have worked in a variety of sectors and have probably carved out a specialist niche in more than a few of them.

Then there’s the challenge presented by the COVID-19 health crisis. Uncertainty about the future. Inability to plan. The need for rapid reaction: to pivot quickly, to create the right message and deliver it with certainty to customers looking for direction. “These are things agencies do well, often better than an in-house team that more than likely will be very focused on its own business and problems, with good reason,” says Feng Huang, Managing Director and Partner at Fred & Farid Shanghai.“An agency is just going to have a broader perspective and can react more quickly.

Speed Counts

Agencies are often accustomed to rapid adaptation. Fortunately, as a global creative boutique, Fred & Farid had already embraced digital communication as a natural way of working across operations in Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, and Paris. Because of this, Fred & Farid was able to immediately focus and strengthen the two attributes necessary for successfully navigating the COVID-driven marketing world: agility and creativity. “In Los Angeles, we were able to bring real time solutions to our client by proactively reimagining HP’s highly-successful Spring‘19 campaign utilizing existing footage to create new messaging that was relevant and empathetic to ‘Safer At Home’ realities,” says Nathan Smith, Global Account Director at Fred & Farid Los Angeles.

Some of the new creative solutions we devised during the crisis resulted in some long-lasting benefits. “We now know how to set up a COVID-compliant shoot, with a team filming in one country and a director in another country,” says Olivier Lefebvre, President & ECD at Fred & Farid Paris. “This production solution allows clients to manufacture content without necessarily moving teams around the world, and that’s good news for brands that want to reduce their carbon footprint.”

Pivoting in a Changing World

Another important area in which agencies are invaluable is keeping abreast of changing customer demands, now occurring at warp speed, propelled by the pandemic. As Microsoft CEO Sateya Nadella told investors on a recent earnings call, as a result of the pandemic “We’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.

A recent McKinsey survey of consumer habits shows why: 75% of US consumers say they’ve tried different stores, websites, or brands during the COVD-19 crisis, and 60% of them say they expect to integrate these new trends into their post-COVID lives.

And it’s not just the rapid increase in changing consumer demands our clients have to deal with. “Rapid-fire social media outlets such as TikTok are becoming more popular at the consumer level, and that means brands need to provide more and more content –and quickly — to satisfy customer expectations,” says Colin Nagy, Head of Strategy and Partner at Fred & Farid New York. Fast turn-around and quick response can be difficult in-house. Agencies best-suited for these times are those with a broad creative and geographic reach, rather than a heavy hierarchy supporting numerous offices around the globe.

There is also a case for a third alternative: hiring agencies when a rapid response is needed, when a new approach is needed, when “content” must be creative and disseminated through a variety of channels. Given today’s uncertain times and budgets, there is a good chance this is the model we will see for the foreseeable future, and there is much to be gained by both agencies and clients. “Working hand-in-hand with in-house teams, agencies can ensure that their clients’ marketing and comms budgets cover more ground,” says Paul Lin, Business Director at Fred & Farid Shanghai, “while keeping the client’s message out there in the marketplace.

Crises are not the time to remain silent forever; choosing the right things to say and knowing when and where and how to say them takes special knowledge of markets as well as communications skills and experience not often available in-house. Despite the changes of the COVID crisis, agencies always have a vital role to play.



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