Robert Sawatzky
Mar 20, 2020

Which agencies will best cope with the rough ride ahead?

Campaign’s just-published Agency Report Cards give us a pretty good idea about which agencies are best prepared for the crisis COVID-19 has thrust upon us.


As you probably know by now, Campaign Asia-Pacific has just finished publishing its Agency Report Cards for 2019. It’s an enormous undertaking involving a huge amount of research, time and effort by both ourselves and the agencies we assess. So there was a certain amount of relief, pride and satisfaction for our editors in pressing the ‘green’ button to publish.

But also some frustration. The world is in crisis. We’re grappling with the largest sudden health threat in decades leading to enormous changes to consumer, lifestyle and workplace behaviours, and our industry—like all industries—is scrambling to adjust.

Yet while we’ve been trying to keep up our coverage of news, research and analysis around these rapidly changing events, we’ve had to devote much of our time in recent weeks to looking backwards.  Our agency reports cover the agencies' activities from 2019, and our follow-up interviews with agency CEOs largely took place in January, before the virus became an outbreak beyond Hubei’s provincial borders. 

It can feel like ancient history. Who really cares about any of that stuff now?

But here’s the thing. The more we looked at agency activities and culture in 2019, the more easily we could see who was best suited to adapt to these difficult times.

Let’s use Isobar as one example. It was a challenging business year for its parent network, as it was for many others. But so much of Isobar's activity in 2019 was geared around helping brands transform their digital activities and fast-tracking in-house capabilities if necessary. Much of the agency's innovation was done with partners focused heavily in cloud technologies like Adobe and Microsoft, with a strategic focus on scaling services and content. I remembered this yesterday, speaking with an independent industry leader who was emphasising how valuable cloud investments will be to delivering content in these changing times.

And what about the work itself? How apropos that in 2019 an agency like Mindshare worked on something like Lifebuoy’s infection alert system in India. Using algorithms, it predicted when infectious diseases preventable by hand-washing were peaking in rural areas and sent mobile alerts through telecom partners to customers to raise vigilance. If ever there were campaign learnings crying out to be re-applied, it would be case studies like this.

Communications too, are evolving in these times given remote work situations. We noticed PHD’s reinvestment in its Source planning system, one function of which is the ability to instantly pick the brains of staff around the globe, incentivising real-time creative problem solving. Publicis would argue its investment in Marcel brings its talent together in a similar way, which is already used to working across silos and boundaries.

Then there are staff initiatives. For years, we’ve been asking agencies about the flexibility of staff working arrangements and the promotion of diversity and inclusion. Considered by some as merely a ‘a nice to have’, we’re now seeing that those agencies who have long been more accommodative of remote working are adapting with greater ease. Staff with diverse teams and personalities, I’d venture to say, will be less prone to group panic. Moreover, those agencies with counselling and mental health resources already in place aren’t just ‘nice organisations’. They’re also not scrambling to help employees deal with the stresses and fears that this crisis has brought.

You get the point. These report cards are much more than 2019 snapshots. The information inside them will tell you a lot about an agency’s culture, skills, tools and adaptability to survive in the very different scenario they face now. 

Robert Sawatzky is Campaign Asia-Pacific's head of content.

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