By Emma Thompson, Head of Agency at Golley Slater
Stepping outside of comfort zones, trying something new, braving the unknown. All these naturally foster curiosities and help create the unexpected. As we find ourselves navigating a new world, it’s important to embrace these changes where possible – and client work is no exception.
The way brands excite consumers may have changed due to the physical, in-person limitations of the pandemic, but it doesn’t mean people aren’t looking for ways to recreate the experiences they had with their favourites pre-COVID-19. They still want to be surprised and engage with brands in unexpected ways. At Golley Slater, we know the importance of creating the unexpected as for over 60 years it has been the driving force that enables us to solve our clients’ business problems. Curiosity has constantly rejuvenated our approach and enabled us to create unexpectedly different ideas.
The shifting landscape of client and agency relationships
Client expectations may have shifted in the wake of COVID-19, but they haven’t lowered. Brands and agencies need to work together through experimental thinking. And in a shifting and challenging landscape, innovation, curiosity and creative thinking are vital to stand out and succeed.
Psychologically, working from home and the way that we have all felt ‘vulnerable’ during unprecedented times has increased the ‘friendliness’ of the agency-client relationship. It has allowed processes to be agile or even fragmented in order to create quick fixes for client problems. For consumer brands, the relationships with their retail customers were also forced to adapt to accommodate. Across the board, this has allowed more honesty and fluidity in the way agencies work with clients – and in turn, also had a positive influence on how relationships are formed.
A great example of this is the pitching process. During the pandemic, we have seen how open and almost kinetic the collaboration process can be. From chemistry sessions, the planning assumption stage and creative tissue sessions, we have witnessed an interaction and collaboration with clients like never before. It’s so refreshing to see how the whole pitching process has become more like an actual brief. After all, most clients are assessing the people on the pitch – so it’s beneficial to have different points of interaction and be able to bond with clients during the process.
The benefits of experimental thinking
Experimental thinking is incredibly important, as it not only forms a safe environment for the ‘no idea is a bad idea’ mentality, but it cuts deep to the WHY rather than the HOW of a brief or challenge. It allows clients and agencies alike to understand if they are answering the right question in the first place. This is something we term ‘cross-pollination at the first point of principle’. It enables fast-tracking to the correct and unexpectedly surprising solutions!
In the wake of COVID-19, it remains important for agencies to ensure they are still delivering on expectations. It feels as if the time for meetings and the valuable time we have with clients has been heightened. To get things right the first time and meet deadlines, we must collaborate more and run more tissue sessions. Being unable to travel has also increased the amount of quality time available to service the clients, rather than using it to travel to them.
The key to successful client relationships
For most agencies, pushing back is part of the job, but this shouldn’t be seen as a negative or simply mean pushing back on deadlines. It’s more about collaboration and extending the scope and responsibility outside of the brief. We would say that a client has a business issue, and an agency has a business challenge. What tends to happen is the client has worked up a solution to the business challenges in the form of an agency brief with creative output requirements. Whether we are, right or wrong we try to is push back and explore the initial business challenge rather than the brief in front of us. That way we work together to get a collaborative response to the challenge that is much more superior in thinking than just answering to a brief.
An example of us working like this was with CCEP. Restaurants across the UK have suffered hugely throughout the COVID-19 pandemic and CCEP wanted to step in and support them in getting back on their feet through investments in promotions and marketing campaigns. We worked with CCEP and nine restaurant chains to develop highly targeted and cost-efficient media and eCRM campaigns, bespoke to each outlet. We used programmatic advertising to target people across social platforms within a 2-mile radius of participating restaurants – so utilising digital banners to do the job of OOH. To deliver something like this for brands, you need to be curious and think outside of the brief, using cross-pollination to include the right people in the mix to answer the problem at first principles and being unexpected by delivering what was needed, but not necessarily what was asked for.
How brands can excite consumers
We have had to innovate massively during the pandemic, particularly in how we used media space (digital only) in order to use those touchpoints in different, imaginative ways to disrupt and interrupt consumers. During the pandemic, gaming – console and mobile-based – has been accelerated and the increased use of AR is being seen more and more as its non-touch experiential.
We are at the forefront of applying technology and innovation to creative brand activation. We call it creative innovation and have chatted with the likes of Gillette, Magnum and Kellogg’s to help them with their ‘virtual’ brand activation plans or around their knowledge gap on in-game advertising and gaming community ecosystems.
Direct to consumer campaigns have been accelerated and smaller challenger brands have been amazing in disrupting their established category king counterparts. Just take pet care brand Denzel’s as an example – which showed that the agility and curiosity that brands have can convert consumers to their brands and away from the obvious suspects.
As we navigate our way through 2021 and beyond, I think it’s important to have no expectations at the beginning of a journey/brief and allow it to form naturally with curiosity via the expertise in the room. This way open and honest collaboration will continue. There seems to be an increased feeling of partnering with our clients rather than just providing a service, which is obviously great to see.
I also think that expectations associated with timing will continue. Both clients and agencies alike have shown how agile and quick they can be and once you have demonstrated speed, you can’t really slow back down.
Flexible ways of working have become increasingly popular, so it’s now also about what this will end up looking like and how client stakeholders’ expectations are managed. By streamlining this, we can minimise the number of face-to-face meetings we have with our clients going forward. Of course, face time remains imperative, but it will be more about quality over quantity when it comes to building customer relationships in the future.