Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in Jul-Aug 2019

When agencies are bored

How to gear up when business is slow.

When I was a young boy, my mother used a specific Sindhi expression to denote chaos and confusion. Roughly translated to the common tongue, it would come out to ‘busier than a fish market’. Surely, she had never been to an ad agency.

For better or for worse, agencies operate in a constant state of flux. Because of the B2B nature of the service, a single agency has to juggle expectations and workflow originating from multiple clients, each with their own schedule; everything can happen at once, at any given time. People who jump ship from our agency to the brand side often complain about how slow and sanitised it feels at their new workplaces.

So in the time of FMCG recession, a lot of us agency folk suddenly have tranquility in our work lives. Rest assured, we don’t like this one bit. Our busy minds are used to racing ahead and finding solutions to marketing problems. So when the clients don’t throw as many challenges your way, you can finally devote resources to longer-term ambitions.

It might be high time to finally think of your own brand. Maybe start with the website which has been neglected for way too long already. I have personally struggled with this but there are worse offenders in the industry. If your website has been under construction since 2011 (Hi, IAL Saatchi!) maybe finally get some of that creative brainpower directed towards telling your own story.

Same is the case with agency credential decks and showreels. With such a constantly changing body of information, it's acceptable if your company deck is not current to the date. But if you’re showing case studies from when Pervez Musharraf was running the country, it’s time for a refresh. In fact, it might do you well to rethink your narrative altogether. Think of yourself as your own client; what would you suggest for your own brand?

While you’re at it, the internet is moving at breakneck speed, so better get those offices and digital assets optimised for stuff like Google Business listings and LinkedIn. If you still have time left, it would be prudent to finally think of a concrete content strategy for those ad hoc Instagram and Facebook pages. Maybe even enter an award show or two.

Once you have your own house in order, it's time to look towards the future of communication platforms. Some of us have been better at this than others. BTL shops like Brandlogics and ActiveMedia have experimented with recurring events, Brand-E has smartly crafted an industry award show, Creative Chaos launched a bunch of promising niche portals under the ill-fated HSN Ventures deal and over at our agency, we have been beefing up our Ishtehari Influence platform with a new startup-friendly service called UnicornPills on the way. Even design houses are getting into the game, launching magazines and apps in the hope of hitting that platform gold.

A lot of these are hits and misses, and that’s okay. But still, if you haven’t tried moving away from your core services yet, this slow period is the perfect time to make an asset for yourself.

If you’re still queasy about the slowdown and just can’t live without love from actual clients, some good ol’ fashioned elbow grease will help tilt the odds in your favour. Maybe start a newsletter to keep your ex and potential clients informed about what you’re up to or organise a movie night at the office and invite those elusive brand managers.

Agencies used to be notorious about personalised service and face-time, but lately, we’ve all been caught up in brief-led over optimisation. Maybe if we rebuilt the personal connections, spent a little more time at the brand’s office/factory/plant, we’d actually find an insight to build a whole communication plan around.

If you’ve done all this and still have time to spare, maybe you can start a campaign to educate Sindhi moms that fish markets are better when they are busy. More chaos means more work. Sometimes, that’s the best thing that can happen to you.

Umair Kazi is Partner, Ishtehari.