Marketing

Here’s How Marketing Agencies Are Helping Clients Manage & Recover From COVID-19

How do you run an agency during extreme uncertainty? Nearly 60 agency professionals share how they are currently managing their businesses and helping clients.

Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik on May 27, 2020 (last modified on August 3, 2020) • 26 minute read

While many agencies survived- and some even thrived- during the 2001 Dot Com Crash and The Great Recession, the one-two punch of a global health crisis and an economic downturn means that the impacts this time around were deeper and faster.

While you don’t have control over the pandemic or the economy, agencies can control how they react and respond to the changing market and client dynamics around them. 

In this post, we’re sharing some strategies that agencies are using to help their clients manage the current health and economic crisis, including:

  1. Practice empathy
  2. Deliver more value within the same scope for clients
  3. Be generous
  4. Make sure your ads and content reflects the current reality
  5. Be a thought leader for your clients
  6. Create a resource library
  7. Provide a remote work resource guide
  8. Add flexibility to contracts and payment terms
  9. Communicate proactively
  10. Adjust ad spend to preserve cash flow
  11. Shift focus to alternate products and services
  12. Pivot away from strategies that are no longer working
  13. Focus less on sales and more on brand building
  14. Get creative with new offers
  15. Experiment with new webinars and virtual events

What’s the scale of the impact? 

Of the agencies that we surveyed, nearly 70% of them say that 60% or more of their clients have experienced negative effects from COVID-19. 

In fact, 82% of the clients in our survey had at least one client in a directly impacted vertical such as travel, hospitality, or restaurants.   

For example, Caroline Kalentzos of POSH says, “In truth, I think all of our clients have felt the effects of the current health crisis in some way or another. Many of our clients are leaders in the beauty industry and have been faced with having to close the doors to their companies as they are considered non-essential. This has led many of them to have to let their employees go. We are also seeing many events having to be postponed and photoshoots that have to be rescheduled.” 

However, this isn’t just isolated B2C businesses. It is being felt across both B2B and B2C businesses.  

1. Practice empathy 

“The main thing to keep in mind during this time of uncertainty is that your clients are human and are going through the same emotional things that everyone across the globe is combating,” says Angela Ash of Flow SEO. “Treat your clients with respect, understanding, and, above all else, compassion. Break the rules a time or two, and stretch boundaries to offer assistance whenever needed. Present projects on time and meet all of your deadlines. Don’t create any undue stress by making a client wonder if you’ll deliver on time.” 

Jasz Joseph of SyncShow adds, “Our agency is working hard to advise clients that the response to COVID-19 is not a one size fits all approach. Some businesses are struggling while others are ramping up during this time. Regardless of the sales and financial situation, it is important to lead with empathy. Now more than ever, prospects are not responding to sales pitches. They are responding to businesses who are doing whatever they can to keep people safe and healthy. No matter what type of business you work for – you can highlight your empathy during this time to prospects and customers.

For example, Obaid Khan of Planet Content says, “One thing I’ve done personally is not cancel any subscriptions we use as an agency or that I use personally. I’m also still paying my gym membership fees even though I have no idea how long they’ll remain closed.

For clients, I’ve doubled down on helping them adjust their strategy to the current times. Whether that means shifting the content strategy to be more relevant and empathetic or cutting down my prices a bit, I’m all for it.” 

2. Deliver more value within the same scope for clients 

“One important thing is to go above and beyond your regular services,” says Greg Brookes of Kettlebells Workouts. “And knowledge is a very hot commodity. Therefore, provide helpful information on your blog, or add in a few free tips in the next newsletter. Any step that you can take -no matter how small – to share with your customers that you care about will be remembered in this uncertain time.”

Deniz Doganay of Digital Debut adds, “We have taken some of our revenue and put it towards some of our customers’ campaigns. We want to make sure they are performing to their maximum capacity as we, as a business, cannot do it without them! Our customers are obviously the most important asset to us and we want to do everything we can to make sure they continue to move forward with their business. Also, being listed as a Forbes Council member we are offering some advice there to other businesses on what they can do themselves to create more online visibility for their business.” 

3. Be generous  

Many agencies are choosing to lead with generosity.

“As a young entrepreneurial company in the B2B demand generation space, there is only so much we can do to help alleviate the economic pain,” says Alexander Kesler of INFUSEmedia.  “But, we felt strongly that whatever we can do is worth doing. And so we pooled our resources to provide 100 companies with 100 B2B leads each, a total of 10,000 potential new business relationships—absolutely free of charge or obligation. We hope that this program will help small businesses maintain momentum in these uncertain times.” 

Robert Rand of JetRails says, “JetRails is offering up to 6 months of free web hosting for merchants that are launching eCommerce sites for the first time due to COVID-19. We’re also offering highly discounted rates on a case-by-case basis for larger, established websites. We’re tailoring discounts in ways that are meaningful for individual situations and organizations.” 

Ken Christensen of Christensen Recycling adds, “We are in the service of providing tools and resources to help with the cleanout and recycling of waste materials. In these times, we are also working with non-profit agencies and businesses that are in need. These opportunities often come through email and lead generation forms on our site. While the average order volume is down, we are still taking the time to build new relationships and help those in need.” 

Nate Rodriguez of LIFTOFF Digital agrees, “We have started a Free Services initiative for local businesses. We’re offering 5 services for free right now: Free Site Audit, Free Google My Business Optimization, Free 1 Page Site, Free 30 min Consultation, and Free Hosting for Nonprofits. 

Kimberly Scholten of Odd Dog Media is doing something similar. 

“Odd Dog is helping our clients combat the volatility of the COVID-19 economy by empowering them to get creative with their online offerings,” says Scholten. “We’ve had great success moving in-person or in-home service consultations to virtual consults through scheduling programs like Calendly(https://calendly.com/). To boot, we’re offering website and Google My Business updates for free, and not just for clients, but to any small or medium business anywhere in the U.S. It’s not a gimmick and there’s no catch – cheesy as it is – small businesses survive better together.” 

4. Make sure your ads and content reflects the current reality 

“We have audited all external messaging for clients to adjust for sensitivity around this current health and economic crisis,” says Maria Mora of Big Sea. “The most impactful approach has been to send emails that have zero marketing agenda but are simply checking on our clients’ customers’ mental health. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive and grateful.”

Ameet Khabra of Ameet Khabra Marketing Inc adds, “We have adjusted some ad copy to reflect the current climate which seems to be resonating well with our clients’ consumers.”

For example, if your ads pre-COVID-19 focused on people having fun at stadiums and music festivals, you might want to pause or edit those ads to reflect the current realities with social distancing. 

The same goes for any new content that you are writing. 

Yoann Bierling of Help Smartphone says, “We’ve shifted current content writing priorities to adapt to the situation, by publishing a series of articles about hygiene and safety that should be useful even beyond the current crisis, and related to both our business and our clients’ interests.” 

Amanda Lopes of Oxygen adds, “Whatever marketing strategy and plans we had planned out for our clients for Q1 was put on hold, re-assessed and included more COVID-19 related topics.

We have written numerous blog posts on COVID-19 but relating back to the core service of our clients and how the pandemic may impact their industry.”

For example, Jarem Frye of ZenFish Marketing says, “In serving vacation rental clients, we edited custom images for AirBnB that showed travelers that we were still accepting people and that we were taking extra precautions to combat COVID-19. As a result, we’ve taken in several travelers who cannot get home because of travel restrictions. These guests have filled canceled slots and our clients are actually doing better this month than they normally do this time of year.”

5. Be a thought leader for your clients 

Shelby Rogers of Solodev says, “To help our clients establish a digital response for their audience, we compiled a list of easy-to-implement web design tutorials so clients can quickly outfit their websites with announcements and alerts to address the current crisis.” 

David Denning of Jumpstart Go says, “We send out a message to all of our web design & hosting clients that we could help them update their site with anything related to the coronavirus (updating their hours, announcements about change to services, etc.) for free to let all their clients know and stay updated. Many of them took us up on the offer, and we were happy to help!” 

Alysha Schultz of Intuitive Digital adds, “We’re working with our clients, and creating content for small businesses, about how best they can communicate service changes to their customers. Google is making frequent changes to what you can and can’t do on your Google My Business page and in keyword targeting related to Covid-19. We’re trying to keep everyone up to date on these and provide action items for in-house marketing managers to do as well.” 

6. Create a resource library  

“We’re curating a resource center with content and tools that are being created from our team and our marketing colleagues around the world,” says Ryan Ruud of Lake One. “As clients have questions about what to do with marketing and business development in this new climate, we figure others are probably asking the same questions so why not make the content and tools centrally accessible? Knowledge is power!”

Joy Corkery of Latana says, “What we’re trying to push in Latana’s blog is offering informative and helpful resources for brand managers and decision-makers to better understand the entire crisis and how to adapt their business strategy when COVID hits their brand. In addition, we’re constantly pushing efforts in conveying online surveys within the subject matter to help highlight current trends and biggest challenges facing this demographic.” 

Emily Hutto of RadCraft agrees, “We launched a COVID craft industry relief hub on our website, which includes free access to our Craft Marketing email subscription, free press releases about what individual companies are up to in this wake, and an array of financial, legal, and marketing resources to support during this crisis. We’re offering free memberships for our brewery co-op for the 2020-2021 season if companies sign up by the end of April.” 

Brandon Amoroso of electrIQ adds, “Our CEO has personally been reaching out to our clients to speak with them in regards to their current needs and how we can help. Additionally, he put together a list of action items for managing small businesses during this pandemic. That piece touches on finances, marketing, and staying in contact with employees. This item was sent out to all of our partners and prospects as well as published on our social media channels in case anyone with a small business is looking for some guidance during these troubled times.”

Some agencies are extending this approach to helping their clients build out COVID-19 resource centers. 

For example, Stephan Roussan of ICVM Group, Inc. says, “We have built out COVID-19 Resource Centers on the websites of many of our clients, as well as helped them form policies and communications about how they will be operating and responding to the needs of their own customers going forward.”

Kate Robitello of VIVID Collective adds, “With the mounting pressure plastic surgeons are facing to keep their practice afloat, navigate office shut-downs, manage marketing decisions, social media strategy, sustain team morale, take consults 100% virtually, and find crisis funding options, we felt it was our duty to help. We created an online 𝐂𝐎𝐕𝐈𝐃-𝟏𝟗 𝐒𝐔𝐑𝐆𝐄𝐎𝐍 𝐒𝐔𝐏𝐏𝐎𝐑𝐓 𝐂𝐄𝐍𝐓𝐄𝐑 dedicated to providing 𝐅𝐑𝐄𝐄 resources regarding all things plastic surgery in the wake of COVID-19. 

In the Surgeon Support Center, we’ve outlined some practical steps plastic surgeons can take right now to support the facets of their practice that have been directly impacted by COVID-19 such as sales, patient acquisition, emergency funding, operations, and long-term survival and scalability. The center also includes a Community Connection section, which is a space for surgeons to contribute information that may be of help to their peers.”

7. Provide a remote work resource guide

Many agencies that were running remotely years before this pandemic took this a step further by creating resources to help them clients transition from in-office to remote work.  

For example, Ian Horley of GoVirtualized by Juice Tactics Ltd says, “The call came in at 07:15 one morning shortly after the lockdown happened. It was the 3rd agency owner who uses our HubSnacks HubSpot service, asking a similar question, ‘If I copy your remote working model, will you kick me off your service?’

We run a 100% virtualized HubSpot agency with a distributed team in just about every time zone.

No matter what, we don’t stop delivering.

‘Not only will I not kick you off my service,’ I assured him, ‘give me a couple of hours, and I’ll write a post on how we do it. Heck, I’ll even teach you myself.’

I’ll share that article in a moment.

The HubSpot Partner ecosystem must continue to deliver.

Part of HubSpot’s appeal is that it’s not difficult to deliver.

If agencies stop delivering because their office-based workers get disrupted, then their client’s don’t get easy help.

That hurts us all.

So the following article is what I wrote for her, and the community at large. It’s called The Don’t Stop Delivering Plan.”

8. Add flexibility to contracts and payment terms  

“We’ve added flexibility to our contracts, and are also allowing for the rescheduling of work altogether,” says Jeremy Cross of Virtual Team Building. “For example, if a service was meant to be provided within a six month period, we have extended this period to up to two years to accommodate clients that are shifting priorities. Many companies are facing layoffs, new projects, and similar, so delaying our agreement gives them time to focus where needed right now.”

Alistair Dodds of Ever Increasing Circles says, “For clients we know to be having cash flow issues, we’ve adjusted our payment terms. We know them well and want to ensure we can play our part in helping them weather this storm.” 

Brogan Renshaw of Firewire Digital agrees, “In order to prevent clients canceling contracts, we offered all clients an opportunity to pause or reduce current spend until this is all over.

About 20% of clients elected to pause contracts. A further 20% elected to reduce spend.

We would rather help all our clients get through this than see them fall over.”

Mark Soto of Contractor Sprout adds, “We handle our customer’s hosting and ad spend which we include in our monthly service costs. In order to help them out, we have removed both of these costs from our total cost and have added another 15% decrease on top of that. By helping customers and being flexible in times of need, we feel as if this will lead to business relationships that will ultimately help us in the long term.” 

For example, Tim Absalikov of Lasting Trend says, “Most of our clients serve their customers face-to-face (i.e. water filter installers, carpenters, sign hungers) yet non-essential businesses. They have close to 0 clients since the pandemic hit New York. All of them asked to put marketing on pause at least for 1 month. We’ve offered to continue to work at the smaller scope (1/4 of regular amount) at no cost for the next 30 days.” 

Wojciech Szywalski of PressPad adds, “We have postponed the payments for the heavily affected Australian customer because he was hit by the COVID-19 crisis right after bushfires and floods that ruined a local economy. Besides this, we keep educating our clients on how to reduce their cost using alternative online, free tools.” 

9. Communicate proactively  

“We sent out personal emails to clients asking those affected how our company could help,” says Nelson Sherwin of PEO Compare. “The results motivated us to offer a deeply-discounted, bare-bones service package for the next three months in recognition of their suddenly lessened cash flow. The thinking was that it would be better, in the long run, to keep them as a customer, even on a smaller scale, than lose them completely.”

Omar Karim of MAB says, “One tactic we have deployed for several of our clients is to implement an advisory pop-up on the homepage of their website. This added design element provides a clear path for customers to find pertinent, pandemic-related information. This demonstrates the company’s commitment to keeping their users informed and shows that they are actively responding to current events.” 

Ben Johnston of Sagefrog Marketing Group adds, “We’ve worked overtime to develop banners and email blasts to our current clients’ customer or subscription bases to address the pandemic and the clients’ response to it. We’ve seen that the customer or subscription base is appreciative of being kept in the loop when it comes to the current state of things, and how their products or services may be impacted.” 

As Steve Yanor of Sky Alphabet Social Media mentions, these same principles also work for agencies communicating with their clients. 

Yanor says, “As a social media agency we monitor Twitter very closely. We started tracking the progress of Covid-19 first in China and then as it started to spread to other parts of the world. We had a strong sense that although it hadn’t become a mainstream news issue yet and hadn’t yet been declared a pandemic, it was only a matter of time and we had better get in front of it. We called up our key clients and scheduled lunch meetings. In those meetings we learned they knew as much or more about what was going on than we did, which was a surprise. Upon realizing this, we offered then and there to cut our fees for the next few months to make it easier for them to navigate the difficult times. All of them took advantage of the offer. We felt that if there was ever a time to walk the walk as partners, this was it, so we were glad to be in a position to offer the kind of assistance that makes the most difference.” 

10. Adjust ad spend to preserve cash flow  

“Temporarily pausing or reducing paid advertising budgets for B2B clients that mainly serve affected industries is one example of easing the pressure of the current economic crisis,” says Tony Mastri of MARION Internet Marketing. “While it’s true that this won’t help increase leads or sales, it will safeguard cash flow and help maintain their current payroll until some level of economic normalcy has been restored.

During this period, these clients are able to fall back on the organic search ranking foundation we’ve built. While this does mean lower lead volume, it also equates to a higher ROI.” 

Noah Kain of Duckpin adds, “For the most part, we’ve moved ad spend around in ways that will be profitable and in ways that will avoid waste in spend. My best example for this is a Lawyer client we have. After discussing with the client, we turned off all of their DUI/DWI ad campaigns in Google Ads because fewer people are driving around or going to bars. We then applied that ad spend to practice areas that might see an uptick in the coming weeks.” 

While some are pausing or reducing ad spend, other companies are reallocating tradeshow and conference budgets to digital advertising. 

For example, Josh Thomas of MultiView says, “Across the board we see clients turning to digital advertising for a few reasons. First and foremost, ~40% of add B2B marketing spend goes to tradeshows. Now canceled, sales forces are not able to get the face time with clients to generate leads. This is a problem solved with programmatic display/video (long term play) and pay-per-click (short term play). The advantage here is most are working remotely. This allows brands to capitalize on reaching their audience online.” 

Editor’s Note: Monitor the progress of your Google and Facebook ad campaigns at the same time using this dashboard.

11. Shift focus to alternate products and services 

“During an economic crisis, we meet with our clients and identify which product or service can be emphasized and which ones should receive less focus,” says Neil Eneix of Fannit. “We also look for ways we can communicate their service or product more effectively in the crisis. From there, we assess whether or not there needs to be a shift in the type of persona being targeted. For instance, in the previous economic crisis, we ended up moving one of our construction clients from focusing on subcontractors to primarily targeting the consumer directly. This helped them grow through even while jobs from subcontractors continued to dry up.”

For example, Daniella Pozzolungo of PupDigital says, “Instead of focusing on their core products (modern cloth nappies), we’ve shifted to focus on products that are more likely to be purchased and used during self-isolation (playmats, kids art smocks) as well as put less pressure on sales, and more focus on branding and education of target audience.” 

12. Pivot away from strategies that are no longer working 

Melanie Musson of Loans.org says, “What was working pre-COVID-19 isn’t the same as what’s working presently.” 

Andrea Loubier of Mailbird adds, “In this time of crisis, we really have to think outside of the box when it comes to our clients. Just because a strategy was working beautifully before, it doesn’t mean that it will in the current environment. Innovation is really the key right now, as you have to be prepared to pivot at a moment’s notice and find a way to provide the best possible service for your client.”

For example, Kyle Golding of The Golding Group says, “We have contacted all our clients and potential clients (in the funnel) with a brief explanation of what we expect will best help their business adapt (change approach), adopt (adding new features, options, etc.) or pivot (change the business model) during the COVID-19 outbreak and how to go back (or continue if the market demands) to the previous version once the situation reverts back to normal.” 

Ashley Hill of Ashleyidesign says, “I have a client in the travel industry, and there was an immediate demand to pivot and set up the offers for next year so that trips could be rescheduled and postponed. This meant doing work normally spread over the summer months in the span of a few days.” 

Joe Fortunato of Company Man Studios adds, “We recently had a 2-day video shoot for one of our clients, a local chain of coffee shops. Our entire team chipped in by editing video into small clips, pulling stills, writing copy, and designing emails to provide our client with over 100 pieces of content to keep their social channels fresh and let customers know they can still order their favorite coffee online.

Matt Tutt of Winston Digital Marketing agrees, “We’ve helped clients to pivot to offer virtual services – for example one client is a dog breeder and trainer and they’re likely to be hit quite hard by this. We advised the virtual training service and have helped create new content on their website and started SEO and a small PPC campaign based around this to help pick up extra clients during this period. Luckily she was very keen to adapt and she’s coping well so far!” 

13. Focus less on sales and more on brand building  

With new leads declining and sales conversations stalling out, many agencies are advising their clients to focus on brand awareness right now. 

“There’s an opportunity to take this time to shift focus from sales to brand building,” says Max Allegro of Intuitive Digital. “Don’t be afraid to be bold at a time when businesses are scrambling to take short term relief options. If you’re in an industry like retail, hospitality, or travel, shifting your resources from sales to brand awareness may be your best move in the long run.

For example, with one of our travel clients, we’ve revamped our strategy to prioritize content marketing, creating content for higher up in the funnel, and building brand awareness through social media campaigns, rather than running booking campaigns.” 

Editor’s Note: Use this social media dashboard to show follower growth and activity growth over Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, and Instagram. 

Deepa Jatania of E.intelligence says, “In this economic crisis, customers are doing less searches and hence less traffic is being generated for the majority of the websites. In this situation, the businesses focusing on SEO should focus on keyword rankings. If they are ranking on page 1 for the majority of the keywords, once this situation will be better, they can get a good amount of traffic.” 

Aristide Basque of SH1FT adds, “We’ve shifted our focus from sales to grow our client’s email list. Since one of our clients is a small hotel chain, their clients were dropping significantly, so we needed to adapt quickly.” 

For example, Alex Birkett of Omniscient Digital says, “We do content marketing for clients, and I have to be honest, most of our clients are just pushing forward with the same playbook. Content is a long play anyway, so it’s not like we had to shut off Facebook ads or rapidly change the creative. We’re still pursuing long term, organic traffic.

For our own agency, we’ve changed two things. First, we haven’t stopped doing sales (obviously), but we’re more flexible on the contract terms. Times are uncertain, so we’ve reduced the required contract length (which used to be firmly at a year minimum). Second, we’re investing in our own long term projects. We’ve launched a new content site, Cup of Kava, and we’re building a mini-course on strategy that we’ll give free to clients. Now’s a good time to think about the assets you want to build for the long term.” 

14. Get creative with new offers 

“To combat decreasing leads for in-office clients, we put a banner at the top of our site to encourage call booking,” says Erik Rivera of Thrive Talk. “Using this banner, our audience can navigate by doctor type, and individual doctor – then, book a free 30-minute session.

While we love keeping our audience onsite, this is a time to really focus on lead generation for our clients as well. If we can’t support their businesses now, we’ll see drastic cutbacks in the coming months.” 

For example, Kathryn Roberts of Quest for 47 says, “I’m teaching my clients and audience how to create an offer that is as accessible to as many people in their own audiences as possible. This isn’t a time to slash prices to zero and work for free (because is no one has skin in the game, then they’re not going to put the effort into what you have to teach them), but this is a time to come from a scalable place of high service, and connect with as many people as possible, showing them that you are here to help. This can mean a lot of things, but one of my favorite options is to create a laser-focused power session, and then add a bonus, like discounted access to one of your paid courses.” 

William Chin of Pickfu.com adds, “One thing we’ve done to help SMBs weather the storm is give away free credit to users who sign-up for our product. Any site owner who signs up will be drawn at random for $200 Pickfu Credit. We are taking 100 impacted businesses of COVID-19.” 

Datis Mohsenipour of Outback Team Building & Training agrees, “Our organization has decided to offer our virtual/remote team building & training services at a 50% discount to help teams remain connected, increase their morale, and allow them to share some laughs during a time of crisis. It’s a critical time to focus on keeping employees happy and engaged.” 

15. Experiment with new webinars and virtual events 

“Spot On is helping a client who specializes in healthcare IT,” says Susie Kelley of Spot On.  “We are implementing a weekly Town Hall webinar. Each Friday we will host a town hall style Q&A session that focuses on specific topics We send out emails/social announcing what the focus will be and will include co-host partners that are specialists in that particular topic.” 

Danny Starr of Cyan Solutions says, “We’re working developing a webinar on virtual AGMs with a client and partner that have experience doing them and will offer it up for anyone who wants to join.”

Phil La Duke adds, “We do a free, round table once every week to help our customers talk to their peers, discuss challenges and share best practices. We are not healthcare experts so we are careful not to provide our own information. The sessions are by invitation only (to keep out opportunistic salespeople, or consultants) so we have true peer-on-peer information sharing.” 

While agencies don’t have control over the current health and economic crisis, they can control how they react and respond to what gets thrown their way. These 15 strategies can help agencies of all sizes better serve their clients.

About the author
Jessica Malnik
Jessica Malnik Jessica Malnik is a content strategist and copywriter for SaaS and productized service businesses. Her writing has appeared on The Next Web, Social Media Examiner, SEMRush, CMX, Help Scout, Convince & Convert, and many other sites.
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