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June 2, 2021 // //  //       //  Opinion

Agency + Client Partnerships: Our New Paradigm

When friends and industry acquaintances ask me about the effect of COVID-19 on our business, I invariably give the same reply. Namely, that Allison+Partners has been privileged – blessed, even – to have made it through the pandemic thus far without making any of our team redundant, without implementing salary freezes, and even with our promotion cycle running as usual.  

All this is only possible because clients have continued to trust us with their business. Looking back at the past 15 months, I believe that our Singapore team has learnt a great deal through the process of proving ourselves worthy of this trust, during a time when agencies and clients alike have had to continually redefine the meaning of “business as usual.”  

Our journey to this new paradigm began in Q1 2020, when the pandemic first introduced uncertainty not just to our daily lives, but also to the state of our clients’ businesses. Every one of the brands we work with came under tightened budget scrutiny. Our client contacts needed our support to provide justification for the value of their activities – whether PR, content marketing, social media, or any combination of all three.  

 Here is how we rose to the challenge.   

  1. Embracing new ways of connecting PR and marketing programmes to business value 

    For many brand marketers, the start of the pandemic marked a period where literally every cent of their spend required justification. Out the window went old-school measures of success such as AVE; vanity metrics (likes, comments, shares) also proved insufficient.   

    We saw an opportunity to level-up our client partnerships accordingly. To prove our value, it was critical that we make clear the connections and correlations between our programmes and our clients’ results. We asked for – and received – access to sales and business data that PR firms never used to have. This gave us the opportunity to establish the role of marketing communications within the sales process, which was made possible by our team members’ fluency in the language of the audience journey and the path-to-purchase.  

  2. Maximising the shift from paid media to earned media and influence  

    Marketing and communications professionals are painfully aware that the decline of paid media – broadcast and paid ads, OOH media, even digital display ads – has been exacerbated by pandemic life. Everything we used to know about audiences’ attention spans has been upended by COVID-19 behaviour trends, from the rise of WFH to the decreased trust in media outlets.  

    With the increased client demand for demonstrable value, coupled with a push towards authenticity in brand storytelling, we leaned hard into building influence through a combination of pure-play PR and content co-creation. By collaborating with agencies in other specialisations, we were able to punch well above our weight. We pitched amplification and syndication strategies for the media coverage that we secured; we reviewed budgets previously allocated for paid influencer content and renegotiated the entitlements for greater impact. 

  3. Earning trust and building partnerships in the absence of F2F contact 

“Is it a face-to-face WIP or a call?” This question became completely redundant as the entire world moved to work-from-home as a default.  

While we take pride in the collaborative, consultative relationships we build with our clients, we knew that each new client we onboarded would require a very different mode of engagement than we used to take for granted. Doubling down on results was a given, but at the beginning of every new client relationship, we worked hard – and creatively – to build the much-needed trust that would shape the way forward.  

Beyond communication, we embraced over-communication. We scheduled regular meetings more frequently, but there was no running away from the need to address client concerns over ad-hoc calls and text messages. This pandemic-era dynamic definitely took some getting used to – and I would be lying if I said it didn’t contribute to my own Zoom fatigue – but we got used to it as a necessary part of the new normal.  

Over time, we settled into a more predictable cadence of communication with our clients, both new and old. And when in-person meetings resumed cautiously at the start of 2021, it was as if the camaraderie of our partnerships never left. Our client relationships were all the stronger for having weathered a full year of the pandemic, one of the strangest periods in any of our lives.  

Relationships are at the heart of every agency-client dynamic, and all relationships need work to grow and evolve over time. By breaking free of the PR silo, and by sharing our clients’ accountability for results and success, we demonstrated ourselves worthy of their continued trust during the most unpredictable of times. I for one don’t take this paradigm for granted: if anything, I'm compelled to work harder – and smarter – to continually build and maintain these hard-won relationships with our clients and partners.  

Lewis is a member of the Allison+Partners Singapore team. He plays an integral role in the growth of the Singapore team, consistently securing breakthrough results for the agency’s major clients. As a regional specialist, he has led and executed award-winning campaigns in APAC, ensuring tangible outcomes for clients in the consumer, corporate, technology and public sectors.  

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