James Moffatt, CEO of Promise Agency, says any business making use of an external agency to manage their communication needs will probably have heard the two cardinal business buzzwords for 2020: adaptability and agility. But has this sentiment impacted the service that has been delivered? Has your companys strategic messaging changed as a result? Has your corporate communication been reactive or responsive? Was it impactful or impotent? 

If not, then circle back to the words. Agility and adaptability, at their best, require a strategic communications firm to incorporate a companys steep learnings during times of crisis into their creative thinking. This requires a deep relationship that is close enough for the agency to fathom the effect of a change in systems or approach, which appreciates the complexities behind operational thought processes and the risks embedded in the new landscape of business. When this is in place, agility becomes about value, learning from the past and growing as a result. Adaptability morphs into an innovative mindset focused on responding effectively and with flexibility to solve complex problems. 

Both buzzwords are essential to current and future brand communications and both underline the new direction in which agency-client partnerships must evolve. Most importantly, both words are more layered than the speed and changeability boxes into which they have been neatly assigned. 

If your existing business model has been radically disrupted and turned on its head by the current crisis, and if you have had to transform the way you operate and come to market, then your communication needs will be far more strategic and more closely aligned to your business objectives. 

Clients are looking for different things from their agencies at the moment, explained Marc Watson, Promise co-founder and Executive Creative Director. In our experience, clients are looking for responsiveness from their communications partners, but also a deeper understanding of their business and a commitment to weathering this storm together. This means that agencies have to offer more than advertising and communications insights, they need to step into the shoes of their clients and actively work to understand their pressures, challenges and long-term ambitions. 

By taking on the role of change-preneurs, agencies have the potential to deliver real and lasting value to clients. The significance of partnering with an agency that ‘gets your world’, delivers on its promises and exceeds expectations is critical at this point in time, said Watson. This calls on agencies to ensure they are delving into client challenges and perceptions and asking questions that take into account the current flux, as well as rapidly shifting consumer trends and ways of working.

It is very easy to focus on surface issues and shifts such as working from home or digital pitching as examples of agility, adds Promise’s Director: Strategy and Innovation Verushen Reddy, but everyone has been forced in this direction – so ‘these are hardly differentiators’. Instead, said Reddy, the ability ‘to walk with clients and mould a service offering that adapts and embraces the present and future needs of the client’s business and the operational context is what we believe will set agencies apart in the future. And that means putting palpable and creative solutions on the table for clients’. These shifts are not new, The client-agency relationship has been steadily evolving in this direction over recent years – the current crisis merely accelerated the push.

This fluidity of communication needs, coupled with the ability to respond with intelligence and brand awareness, favours the partnership approach of smaller and mid-level agencies, believes Watson. It is a shift that offers dynamic and innovative agencies an edge over big, globally-aligned firms. 

But are communications professionals across the board prepared to interrogate their own skills-sets using the lens of 2020 as a learning platform to transform the client-agency relationship into a fertile partnership? Many are not, said Watson. Those that are will be heavily focused right now on securing top talent and ensuring that their teams are fit for purpose,’ he said. Agencies that refuse to adapt themselves will certainly be caught on the back foot. 

As 2020 rolls to a close, Reddy suggested that every company stops to reflect on what 2021 has in store and how they need to communicate in this context. Ask yourself if your communications agency is well-equipped to deal with current global changes, he said. And, as you do, remember that the ability to anticipate and embrace change will increasingly be the differentiator in the world of strategic communications.