Blue Sky with a few clouds

I actually don’t mean the Headspace app, but I have given it a try since lockdown along with a few other things to survive in all the chaos (you should check it out). Just like any business, we’re not immune to the impact of COVID-19 and some would argue an agency like ours would be one of the hardest hit. After all, as my accountancy friends say, “marketing is the first thing to get chopped” when a recession hits. My usual response to that is its advertising spend contained within that budget that goes first not the consultancy. I learned that lesson in the last recession when we decided it would be a good idea to set up Fuel Communications!

But this time it is different for advertising. Companies forced to shut have no reason to advertise and the industry is predicted to take a £4.2 billion hit down to £21.1 billion in 2020. That comes after 10 years of uninterrupted growth after the financial crash.

Crucially, this time, the industry hasn’t been able to benefit from the bold companies who can be relied upon to ‘turn up the volume’ and grab market share whilst everyone else is keeping quiet and saving cash. Seeing good people, clever people, being made redundant or in fear on furlough has been really sad. That said, it has been encouraging to see both local and large advertising channels innovating whilst being sustained by messages from the government and the big brands showing their human side with #stayathome #staysafe campaigns. I’ve even seen some urging #StayAlert lately but that’ll have to be the subject of another blog…

Google, the world’s largest advertising platform, is doing its bit to support SMEs having just announced it is offering free Google ad credits to those who spent regularly last year or in the early part of 2020. It’s also looking at making Google Shopping more accessible online retailers in the UK later this year following a trial that is currently taking place in the US.

Back at Fuel Communications (now a collection of connected home workers and Zoomers rather than enjoying our new Birmingham and Plymouth offices), we’ve had to act quickly and draw up a different strategy and plan based from the one we had coming into 2020. That’s another lesson I learned from the last recession (thanks to my accountancy friends I mentioned earlier) is that getting a clear view of what the numbers look like over the first quarter or two greatly helps clear decision making. Of course, that has to be combined with a desire to protect the livelihoods of our tremendous team and be able to support demand from our clients. Thankfully, for us and our clients, that has meant we still have a full-service agency of digital marketing, immersive and e-commerce experts working hard with only a small reduction in capacity.

The other thing I know from before is that a time of crisis offers the true test of the strength of your relationships. Our new directors, who all signed up to those ambitious plans for 2020 and beyond have responded with the strength of character and sharpness that made us want them to become part of Fuel in the first place. The pace at which we were able to understand the challenges facing us and re-plan as a new team is something that my co-founder Steve Gyseman and I are very proud of. We got our team set up and running from home faster than the official advice. What’s more, we’ve been completely transparent on the challenges that Fuel and its clients are facing. Their response, which I would have predicted to have been first class, has been exactly that.

I’ve also had numerous ‘difficult’ conversations with clients who are putting campaigns on hold for the foreseeable future. They know we are here for them even if they aren’t currently paying for our support.

The other thing I know is that you can’t have conversations with people if they aren’t ready to talk. That’s the problem with marketing, you can’t pitch ideas when people are trying to stay afloat. You have to stay patient and get your timing right which isn’t easy when you are expecting income to take a hit.

But here’s the interesting thing, we didn’t have much time to put our feet up. Not long after the initial shock of lockdown, the phone started to ring and the Zoom invitations came in right across the business. People had a bit of time on their hands, a bit of headspace. “How about we take a look at that eCommerce plan we discussed last year…You know that website idea we kicked around recently…How can we use immersive technology to create a virtual exhibition space…Shall we turn the volume up a bit…” It’s amazing what happens when entrepreneurs and organisations get a bit of headspace.

The other factor here is that consumers have been forced to use more technology to communicate and shop and most of them are finding it isn’t so bad after all. It took 10 years for eCommerce to reach 16% penetration in the US – that figure has grown to 27% in just the past 8 weeks!

Here at Fuel Communications, we’re having more conversations with potential and existing clients about fast-forwarding plans and reimagining the future. That’s the time when agencies like ours come into their own. You see, our industry is always amongst the first to feel a downturn but it is also at the front of the queue when business leaders switch from survival mode to thinking about the future.