What a time to work in an agency.

Ask any agency person what their most heard word has been throughout the pandemic – it’s ROI. (Obvs.) 

With the world experiencing serious disruption, the margins of success are smaller than ever.

Agencies’ resources are being stretched to the limit. Plus, there’s increased scrutiny from clients, whether they’re pitching, strategizing, or executing a campaign. 

All brands want to emerge from COVID-19 intact, which means their need for reassurance is heightened.  

What’s the antidote? Agencies have to keep their finger on the pulse to ensure their clients’ bottom line – as well as their own – stays in the black.  

Here are four ways agencies can drive ROI in the next normal, using a holistic, data-driven approach.

1. Pitch strategically. 

Remember when winning new business meant growth and expansion? 

Now, it’s mission critical. You almost can’t call yourself an agency if you haven’t lost business during this year’s coronavirus crisis. 

A five-star pitch is original, relevant, and clearly outlines how ROI is factored into the approach – thanks to robust consumer insight underpinning the idea. 

When you’ve got access to survey data, getting to the heart of what any and every target audience cares about is instant. 

Even if prep time is limited, what counts most is taking an audience-centric approach – the ultimate competitive advantage.

So, here’s how to pitch with impact:

1. Look to an accurate survey data source as a first plan of attack.

2. Pinpoint the most current, compelling, and unique psychographic insights that characterize the target audience you’re going after. How do they describe themselves? What are their priorities and why? How do they consume media, and what’s the way they discover brands?

3. Hone your targeting further by segmenting the audience into smaller groups with like-minded perspectives and attitudes.

4. Use a key audience segment as a springboard to guide ideas, creative, messaging and placement.

5. Explain that your thinking is backed by solid market research to show how each component in your plan ladders up to a strategy designed to drive ROI.


What it comes down to: Recommendations can sound impressive on paper, but they have to get the attention of real people. A great pitch shows how well you know the audience, surprises the client with insight they don’t know, and demonstrates how you’re going to leverage that information

2. Grow your relationships faster.

Winning a pitch is a big deal, but it’s no end game.

Next comes the relationship, which can single handedly hinder potential ROI by making or breaking a client and agency’s chances of working together long term. 

With face-to-face meetings at a minimum, there’s Zoom to contend with instead. 

And since we’re not out of the woods, brands are far more likely to cancel agency contracts – or drastically reduce them – if they’re not confident about their chances of advertising success in today’s climate. 

So, what’s the most effective way to gain clients’ trust?

By delivering a personal approach, each and every time you make contact. Not just for the work you’re contracted for, but outside of it – providing more value through regular, ongoing dialogue. For example, what insight can you share about a brand’s audience, and what tactic can you optimize as a result?

Agencies are the link between knowing everything there is to know about real consumers, and what the best course of action should be from a marketing perspective. 

Not every agency, however, relies on the same level of deep consumer insight to bolster their credibility – and subsequently, their relationship with clients. 

If you strive for the middle ground between insight and inspiration in conversation, the benefits are twofold: 

  • A mutually beneficial relationship will develop faster, because you’re more likely to get buy-in.
  • You’ll gain an edge by demonstrating true market responsiveness and agility – crucial when the COVID-19 situation keeps adding chapters.

What it comes down to: Forging relationships in the next normal isn’t about promising the world, but showing your adaptability and adding value wherever possible. If you’re hoping to engage in future client negotiations down the track, use deep consumer insight to tell the story.

3. Tailor every budget and media plan.

With brands proceeding more cautiously than ever, how can agencies allocate client budgets most effectively? 

First, the old rulebook is out the window, so this isn’t the time to ‘recycle’ old budgeting tactics from one client or project to the next. (Even if there are similarities, and even if something’s worked in the past.)

Budgeting for maximum return requires a tailored approach. 

As far as media plans go, there are so many ways to divvy up a budget. But if you want to be successful, cues have to come from the target audience, and nowhere else. 

No matter how big or small the budget, here are key questions to ask:

  • How is the audience feeling – what mindset are they in regarding COVID-19?
  • What are their interests and priorities, and have they changed? 
  • How do they discover brands?
  • What forms of media do they gravitate to and why? 
  • How do they divide their attention between online and offline?
  • What incentivizes them to buy something?
  • What are their expectations of brands?

Not only do these answers help hone your targeting and overall approach – this information also instills confidence and goodwill in clients, because you have solid data to show exactly where your reasoning came from.

Ultimately, making decisions based on actual consumer truths is the strongest way to ensure – and predict – what the expected return on investment should be.

What it comes down to: If you can pin down the most lucrative channels and key triggers needed to reach a particular audience, you can drive ROI confidently, expertly, and without any guesswork. 

4. Pay attention to thriving areas and industries, and pivot when you need to.

It’s looking like the world will be in flux for a while. 

Thankfully, agencies can help brands make sense of it – by signposting where the opportunities for recovery are.

To drive ROI even in the most challenging circumstances, you need to look ahead. 

It’s crucial to track new trends and developments we’re seeing amid the pandemic; especially those that are likely to be here longer term. 

TikTok, ecommerce, booming D2C businesses, and gaming are just some of the things making waves right now, for example. 

Investing in the right research tools means you’re always going to be best placed to know a brand’s audience, and what’s happening in the wider market, regardless of whether we’re living through a pandemic or not. 

If you’ve got the evidence to show where brands are most likely to profit in future, you can share that expertise with clients in the context of securing future work with them.

But it’s worth noting that even the most carefully researched plans might need rehashing depending what COVID-19 has in store. If clients question why a new creative angle or approach is now the most cost-effective action, you need a reliable source to back you up.

What it comes down to: Suggesting lucrative avenues for brands to explore is a key tactic for driving agency ROI. Today’s profitable agencies are experts at keeping abreast of wider market trends, and finding the best ways – and best time – for brands to leverage them.   

Surviving, thriving, and driving ROI in the next normal: what to remember

1. To withstand today’s climate and drive ROI amid tough times, agencies need to be value drivers above all – providing expertise and reassurance at every opportunity. Though brands’ confidence might have taken a hit, customers can still be reached in the right place, at the right time, providing you’re audience centric and you know where to look.  

2. Not only will deep consumer insight confirm the validity of ideas you’ve been contracted to work on, it will help unveil the most lucrative opportunities for brands in the wake of the crisis – meaning you can unofficially ‘pitch’ to your client, with a greater likelihood of getting buy-in. 

3. Consumer mindsets and behaviors are still adjusting to the pandemic, and will continue to do so. Pay close attention to their needs, make sure budgets and strategies underpin that, but don’t be surprised if you need to tweak a strategy halfway through. Be prepared to map out a new, best course of action if or when consumer sentiments change.

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