Luke Janich
May 11, 2020

The indie agency survival guide

Specialisation is your greatest weapon.

The indie agency survival guide

With networks starting to launch cost-cutting measures, I don’t need to say how tough times are right now. Large networks are well-placed to weather the storm. It’s smaller independent agencies that often struggle to survive. That said, I want to offer some hope for the indies out there. Because specialisation is more important than ever, and that provides a lot of opportunity, despite the current climate.

So how can independent agencies not only survive but prosper at this time?

Let’s start with specialisation.

Support where it’s needed

We’re all feeling the pressure in agencies right now because, when our clients’ businesses are affected, we’re the first to feel the pinch. But it’s essential to make the distinction that not all clients’ businesses are affected in the same way.

Some industries, such as travel, tourism, and those dependent on discretionary spending, have been hit hard. Yet others, like supermarkets, healthcare, and tech services are booming. Rather than trying to return to business as usual, we need to ask ourselves: how can agencies support our clients now, while preparing them for the new economy once all this blows over?

That means anticipating their needs right now while discovering new opportunities in this ever-changing landscape.

For instance, despite tight budgets, hardworking specialist capabilities—such as SEO, PPC, paid social, e-commerce and performance content—will remain valuable to clients. Rather than testing or innovating, these offer a proven return on investment, and they know the science works. Just as clients are tightening up their businesses, we too should focus on ours and our most hardworking specialisms.

Emerging opportunities

One opportunity for brands is the current online behaviours. Around the world, screentime is up while online shopping and conference calling has become the norm rather than the exception. While it’s unclear how this will affect long-term consumer behaviour, we know it could be far-reaching as whole families and businesses go online. Company meetings and conferences may never be the same again.

In seriousness, though, brands understand that if more people are searching for you online, you’ve got to be at the top of your game. That means being visible in search, optimizing your site (SEO), app store optimization (ASO) and even developing performance content around trending topics that convert these searches into real leads.

Specialist agencies are ideally placed to take advantage of this new reality, while making sure every dollar is working as hard as it can be.

An excellent example of this right now is the record low costs of digital ads. Since many brands preemptively pulled their media spends, some channels such as Google, Facebook, Amazon ads have never been cheaper. And it’s not just ads; influencers are feeling the pinch too. We already see some influencers working with smaller budgets, and for brands, they wouldn’t have considered only a few months ago.

These are just a few emerging opportunities for indies right now; many more may appear over the coming months. That’s not to say it’s going to be easy. In the good times, being lean and adaptable pays dividends; right now, it’s essential to many agencies’ survival.

But, when we come out of the other side of the current crisis, having the right approach and attitude now will ensure that it’s the indies, not just the networks, leading the bounceback.


Luke Janich is CEO of RED² in Ho Chi Minh City.

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