Rahul Sachitanand
May 11, 2020

How the pandemic changed advertiser-agency relationships in China: WFA research

More than three quarters of advertisers in a new survey from the World Federation of Advertisers say the pandemic strengthened their ties with agency partners. However, only 20% have adapted their performance evaluation or KPIs as a result.

A view of a light show celebrating the end of the 76-day lockdown in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province.
A view of a light show celebrating the end of the 76-day lockdown in Wuhan in central China's Hubei province.

A little over a month after the lockdown was lifted in Wuhan, the epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic, advertisers in China say they are seeing business rapidly returning to normal. In a survey of 24 MNCs across 10 sectors, conducted in late April by the World Federation of Advertisers, 80% of respondents said business had entered a new normal in China, as the country has gotten back to work. 

Despite this optimism, however, marketers also admit that the pandemic has compelled them to recast their plans as they have learned to manage their businesses in a constrained environment. Nearly nine in 10 respondents said they would use this time as opportunity to reshape their plans with key agencies and business partners. At the same time, more than three-fourths said the pandemic had only strengthened their ties with agencies and marketing partners in China. 

As marketers and agencies emerge from the lockdown, they are taking different approaches to pitches and and tender initiatives. Just 12% of respondents said they deferred their plans by a quarter, and half of advertisers polled said they have taken a more measured case-by-case approach with their plans.

What was your main approach in regard to pitch reviews and tender initiatives during the crisis?

With constrained marketing budgets, however, it may be difficult for these marketers to launch new and expansive campaigns. Instead, around two-thirds of respondents repurposed existing work, even as nearly half of respondents shot campaigns in locations that were less ravaged by the virus. 

What innovative ways did your agency and production partners offer to maintain the production of content?

Despite the work done to manage during the lockdown, some mixed messaging seems to be emanating from advertisers. On one hand, they speak of communicating openly and building more technology tools with agencies. Yet only 20% of advertisers have evolved their performance evaluation models to reflect their agencies' contributions during the crisis. 

Have you adapted your agency performance evaluation and KPIs to reflect your agencies' actions and support to your business during the crisis?

However, given the scale of the impact from COVID-19, advertisers are finding new ways to aid agencies who helped out the most during the pandemic. Advertisers offered an assortment of aid, including ad-hoc marketing projects, contract extensions to helped stressed agencies survive and revive their fortunes, as China emerged from weeks of stringent confinement.   

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