Client relationships on lockdown: Will agency and client partnerships be the same again?

By Mark Raymond,

As we look back on our first two full weeks of working remotely, we catch our breath again and really look at the new normal of agency-client relationships. The closest we come to meeting our clients (and colleagues) in person is on screens from our makeshift home offices.  

Our ‘Anywhere is Possible’ programme regularly sees members of our team working across the globe from Folkestone to Sydney. Flexible working initiatives let us attract and retain the best talent in the industry. Thanks to these existing arrangements we transitioned to a fully remote team with ease. 

As covered in our recent report, COVID-19 and media buying, in any period of disruption, opportunities arise alongside the challenges. For all the challenges faced by many, COVID-19 has had a positive impact on some brands. One area is remote working tools and business platforms. Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams and Google Hangouts, to name a few, have all seen spikes in demand.  Zoom seems to have benefited the most, having positioned themselves before the outbreak as the easy, smooth, experience-led platform of choice.  Amid the rush to adopt, the controversies around Zoom’s use of data hasn’t been an impediment.

“We should be the masters of technology; technology should not be the master of us.”Lyn Bromley and Donna Whitbrook, Trusted.

Since the lockdown we’ve all been inundated with emails and social posts about tips for remote working – from the downright obvious ‘get dressed’, to the more sensible ones that are best practice for us, such as ‘get to grips with the different platforms’. 

At Anything is Possible, we have been using these tools since we launched in June 2018, each with their own functionality and nice touches. As I’ve now got two kids at home and have numerous children’s paintings adorning the walls, my personal favourite is the ‘blur background’ option in Microsoft Teams

If only Robert Kelly, the professor interrupted by his kids bursting into his room when being interviewed live on the BBC News about South Korea, used this, the hilarious clip wouldn’t have been viewed more than 37 million times on YouTube! Neither would he have been able to latterly reinvent himself as a work-from-home guru.

A lot is being said about how advertising agencies are keeping up the morale of their employees during lockdown, such as this recent piece by Digiday

But what about your clients?

As an agency that understands the value of being across a desk from our clients and encourages our team to spend as much time as possible working out of our clients’ offices, I must say, it’s been a challenge. We all know relationships are built on trust, and the best way to build trust is face-to-face. 

According to a study conducted at Beijing Normal University, face-to-face communication differs from other forms of communication in two ways:

  • It involves integrating ‘multimodal sensory information’ (facial gestures), and
  • It involves more turn taking between participants, which has been shown to play a pivotal role in interactions.

Being physically present and giving emotional and intellectual attention is what psychiatrist Edward Hallowell calls the ‘human moment’. The human moment has two prerequisites: people’s physical presence and their emotional and intellectual attention. This human moment can only happen when two people share the same physical space. 

“Great Work Wins Business; a Great Relationship Keeps It.” Robert Solomon, The Art Of Client Service

This week, we will be conducting our first pitch via video conference. Whilst we know it’s not possible to achieve the human moment when we won’t be in the same room as the brand’s team, we’ll apply our usual pitch rigour and pitch magic to get as close to it as possible.

Last week we successfully on-boarded a new client remotely. No easy accomplishment with five agency members and three times that many client stakeholders.

Luckily, we’d met a few of the team at the pitch stage. Every touch point with a client (new and old) plays an important role in forming and developing our reputation. Every single one, from emails to meetings and calls to documents, gets the unique ‘Anything is Possible’ treatment. Our reputation is supported by client testimonials and ratings on the Drum Recommends, as well as industry recognition, such as being named ‘One to Watch’ by eConsultancy at the end of last year. 

Know the room – even when you’re not there

We rehearse for client meetings like we would a pitch, a practice we have always conducted. During lockdown, when you can’t read the room or glance at a colleague and look for cues, this is more important than ever. 

We don’t want to be the agency that spends the first 15 minutes saying “Can you hear me?”, “Can you see me?”, talking over and contradicting colleagues. If we were, the client on boarding wouldn’t have gone so well!

Every part of that meeting, from the introductions to question taking, when to be on mute to who owned each slide, and utilising the full functionality of Microsoft Teams, was meticulously planned. 

Communication really is king. By developing a deep understanding of our clients, we know when to set up a video conference, when to set up a group call, when to email or Slack and simply when to pick up the phone one-to-one.

Right now video conferencing (with video on!) is the closest we can get to face-to-face communication with our clients, prospects and colleagues, so we lead with this form as much as possible.

Transparency is one of our founding pillars – we use (and always have) shared docs, to collaborate with our clients and enable us to all feel part of one team. We really are all in this together.

Embrace the uncertainty

We need to be there for our clients more than ever, even if we have to keep our distance. Will this be the new norm? We hope not, but we’re adapting fast and embracing the uncertainty that each new day of lockdown brings.

And the final principle for what makes great client service in Solomon’s The Art of Client Service, ‘Never Give Up’? This above anything unites our team of Possiblists. 

Anything is Possible aspires to be the easiest partner to work with. Face-to-face or not, this will always be one of our guiding principles, so get in touch with our remote team today – wherever they are…