What Now?

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October 12, 2020

What Now?

Creative leaders discuss how to move forward

In a roundtable discussion, we share the insights of three agency principals amidst these confusing times: Billy Mitchell, founder and CEO of MLT Creative; Justin Ahrens, co-founder and chief evangelist of Rule29; and Terry Marks, principal of Tmarks Design. Take a look at their thoughts on how the creative community is dealing with the current landscape and how they are pushing forward.

1. What mechanisms are you using to stay connected to your clients during the pandemic?

Billy Mitchell: We are staying connected with clients via email, Zoom calls, GoToMeeting calls, and other collaboration tools such as Basecamp and Google Docs.

Justin Ahrens: We have been using a combination of weekly and monthly personalized emails along with lots of phone and video calls. Also, we have rewritten our marketing automation to be current, targeted and more specific.

Terry Marks: The use of the word “mechanisms” seems a bit, well, mechanical. At this time when everything is more distant and less human, I have tried to be more personal. Even as much as I would counsel clients to have intentional, meaningful social media programs, I have been using personal contact with postcards, direct emails and even phone calls.

The goals that existed at the beginning of the year have obviously changed. Studies of the last many decades say that regardless of the cause, those who continue to market during downturns not only do better-they slingshot once recovery comes. That is nice to say and to act on, but the truth of what will happen is anybody’s guess.

I assume those I work with might be feeling similar things. And being genuinely curious, I have asked what their challenges are, what they are hoping to do, and where they see things heading. It has spurned good discussion and I can only believe, a good portion of the work we are engaged in now.

2. What is the general feedback from people regarding their businesses now, and in the near future?

Mitchell: Most of our accounts have continued to actively market themselves this year and make plans for applying what we’ve learned to 2021, since many of the same challenges will most likely continue for a while. While some B2B tactics such as industry events, direct mail, and in-person sales calls have been paused, others like email, strategic ABM, and virtual events have been more of what our clients are focused on.

Ahrens: We see two variations of struggling. Either they are crazy busy with crazy work hours and less people, or they are struggling because business is challenging and they are understaffed. With that said, activity is going up and we see more activity and opportunity happening.

Marks: It’s the broad scope that you would imagine. Of course, those we are engaged with currently are either optimistic or experiencing enough continued success that their needs haven’t been too greatly affected. Some are in the middle of a pivot to exploit online needs or opportunities. Others have a longer term play at hand. All seem to know that we are in some state of flux and the challenges could quickly change.

3. When you think of how business was done pre-pandemic, are there things you do NOT want to come back in the post-corona landscape?

Mitchell: I believe that many businesses, including our own, will not return completely to their pre-pandemic ways. We’ve all had to adapt to a more virtual ecosystem and whatever we return to will be more of a hybrid model. I believe this will be a good thing and I would not want to go back to the old model.

Ahrens: I want to keep the value of our time more front of mind. And I like the openness and that more grace exists when it comes to a kid barging into a call, dog barking, or technology not quite working at times. Often something will happen in a call that is no big deal but before the pandemic it would have been a huge issue or deal breaker. In so many ways I feel like we are a bit more human.

Marks: Spoiled by the ability to conduct business at a distance, I selfishly don’t envy the idea of anything resembling a commute. That said, I find that being able to be physically present with people seems to create a more powerful understanding and engagement and hence, often better results. I guess this might mean that I do not want non-essential or overly long meetings to return.

4. What are some things you are doing during the pandemic that you want to continue in the future?

Mitchell: We look forward to applying what we’ve learned to enable our team to work more days remotely, and on the days that we are all on location we will try to take advantage of the collaborative opportunities.

Ahrens: Working more from home, having more personal check ins, and continuing to explore technology to make us more efficient. We just want to be more aware of how we run our business. I also want us to continue to prioritize learning, awareness of culture, technology, and what could be next. We did before, but not like we have in the last seven months.

Marks: Again, selfishly, I’d like to continue spending as much time with my family. In addition, I’ve made a commitment to continue working on personal creative projects. Life was more fractured prior to the pandemic. We were busy doing so much because it was deemed “good” and held some benefit. We’ve had a bit more time to reflect. And I think that’s essential-the unexamined life and all.

5. How do you feel about your company’s commitment to marketing in tough times?

Mitchell: I believe our company, and any other for that matter, should focus intently on marketing in tough times. Especially in tough times.

Ahrens: I feel lucky that we had so much built and ready. The transition to increase in some ways and to focus more in others was very natural and easy to do.

Marks: I think I touched on this. We have been committed to it, albeit differently than one might immediately perceive as marketing. Given our needs and goals, we have kept things more personally directed. And it seems to be working. It is different for our clients so we’ve worked to align with their needs.

6. What advice do you have for organizations that want to help you engage in the new landscape?

Mitchell: Don’t approach us without doing your homework first. Bring something new to the table that you know will be of interest. Make it easy for us to evaluate your offering on our terms.

Ahrens: I think if you do not have a marketing funnel or have it dialed in, a year ago was the time you should have done it; the next time is right now. Continue to be open to evolve and shift the way you do things, and make that part of your culture and strategy as much as possible. This will help you to be aware, continue to learn, and work ahead for what’s next.

Marks: Far be it from me to think I know just what others might need. Their goals, offerings and needs of their clients might vary wildly. But by reaching an understanding of their clients’ needs and goals, set against those of the market, the world will likely reveal a path. Then it’s getting it done and adjusting as needed.

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