3 Ways to Recession-Proof your Agency / Client relationship

Shawn Holness

Shawn Holness

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Recessions aren’t new, they come and go, however, we need to recognize that for the foreseeable future things will be a bit different.  This may be an uncomfortable truth for many; however, uncertain times can bring about opportunities if we look at them through the right lens.  Marketers and agencies have historically followed two schools of thought: Belt tightening or deeper investment in self.

Belt Tightening / Crisis Management

Many companies immediately look inward to find, streamline, or completely remove inefficiencies and / or redundancies, with the goal of cutting costs wherever possible to remain affordable amidst austerity measures. 

Investing in Self / New Capabilities

Others, however, take a different stance, re-evaluation, and re-invention.  Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but a recession and how to react is a matter of poise and perspective.  In a new economic climate where clients are looking to maximize on value while ensuring costs remain low, the question agency partners must ask themselves is; ‘How can we help our clients adjust to the demands of this new economy whilst delivering against the same goals and objectives’?

Here’s a few thoughts to consider:

#1. Don’t Sweat the small stuff!

When making the shift to “do the same with less” agencies should shift focus on ‘bigger ticket items’ that will drive maximum impact for the brand, while operating with newly streamlined budgets and resources.  We no longer have the luxury for small wins.  These are still important, but should take a back seat to more important, and impactful initiatives. 

At M&C Saatchi One-to-One, our raison d’etre; ‘Impact’!  “Impactful Human Connections” to be more specific.  We believe that for both our client partners, and their respective end-consumers, it’s crucial that everything we do is impactful in terms of brand goals and consumer benefit.  

Now, what constitutes “impactful”?  I’m glad you asked; As a true agency partner who understands our client’s business and organizational goals, helping them to refocus efforts on marketing strategies that will help them avoid waste and drive revenue is key.  At One-to-One, through our MarTech studio, we help brands look inwards at money-saving assessments across their MarTech to streamline systems and processes that are potentially soaking up investment. 

Finally, our end-consumers, who are also going through the same recession, have less money or appetite for cookie-cutter marketing efforts, and are looking for Initiatives that positively impact them and their families’ lives, while providing products and services that connect with them in meaningful ways.

#2. Get comfortable with the uncertain!

Priorities will (continue to) shift!  As clients adjust to meet newly set goals, structures, austerity measures, and re-organizations, these will not only be common, but will increase in frequency.  What MUST remain constant is a having an agency partner that understands this and is willing to adapt (quickly) alongside their client partners to ensure newly identified priorities are recognized, and executed seamlessly.

I spoke with Johnny Walker, Global Director at M&C Saatchi Fluency, our data science partner within the group to understand how this year has affected their clients and relationships.  He noted:

“We know brands and consumers are facing difficult macro-economic challenges as we move into 2023. And while this is incredibly daunting for our clients, there is a source of optimism for us – as the tools we have to weather the storm are better than ever before.

Our Brand Desire Engine, which we created in partnership with Clear M&C Saatchi, leverages highly sophisticated AI and machine learning to make sense of millions of datapoints, enabling us to get under the skin of brand desirability and performance. This equips us now better than ever before to truly understand how to optimise performance, drive demand, and withstand the macro-economic challenges our clients are facing.”

#3. Don’t be precious! Remain flexible & resilient!

As clients adjust, agency partners must quickly adapt and align or become obsolete.  Being locked into specific structures, ways-of-working, or forms of partnership, will quickly erode patience with clients looking to adapt to their new realities.  Now, more than ever, they will need a partner to walk with them through that journey, hand-in-hand. 

Jen Zwilling, Senior Strategy Director at Clear M&C Saatchi notes:

“So far, we’ve seen reorganizations and downsizing which creates disruption on teams, leading to quick shifts in priorities. All of this adds a new layer of uncertainty which aligns exactly with what Clear is positioned to help clients navigate: the complexities and uncertainties that are omnipresent within organizational structures. Being a true client partner – even when not actively working on a project – means always being willing to help with the transfer of knowledge within clients’ shifting teams.”

Reinforcing the fact that during turbulent times the need for a resilient and solutions-focused agency partner becomes even more imperative.

Take the time to assess and re-evaluate how you partner with your clients.  This includes automating previously manual processes, revisiting your scope structure to ensure it allows for the flexibility needed to be the best partner through turbulent times, and do whatever is in your power to make your clients’ day-to-day easier.  Remove meetings from the schedule when possible, give time and space back in their day to contend with the new challenges and uncertainty recessions brings.  All whilst supporting them and being there in whatever manner helps them most, without compromising team morale, or the quality of your agency’s product.

In speaking with Ian Magnani, CRO for MCD Partners, he notes:

“During our 24-year history, we’ve been through a few economic downturns.  This time around we’re expecting a relatively soft landing, but we are taking steps to support our clients and minimize any impact to our business.  Our focus has been increasing our own efficiencies so we can provide the best level of service and value to our clients.  These efficiencies focus primarily on upgrading our production management, media, design, and development capabilities, while deepening our relationships with offshore partners, and taking a more aggressive approach to pricing with business development.  We’re also a bit more cautious about hiring, however, have a few open positions we plan on filling”.  

While many may take the belt-tightening approach and seek to cut costs, others will instead seek to increase investment in key areas of their business and look for new opportunities to add value.   All said, dysfunction and chaos can create opportunity, and savvy agencies (and clients) can ride the tide of economic fluctuations and come out on the other side, stronger, and more efficient than before, with the right perspective and proactive approach.

Net Net, be there for them through the good and the bad, and that investment of your time and energy will reap benefits in the present and future. 

So, my final question to you;

‘Can you think of any other ways to recession-proof your client relationship, and help them navigate through 2023 and beyond?’



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