RSW-US Survey Urges Agencies to Restart New Business Efforts

RSW-US Survey Urges Agencies to Restart New Business Efforts

Since U.S. COVID-19 shutdowns began in mid-March across the nation, ad agencies and marketing firms have been dealing with the sudden shift from office operations to remote working. They have also been faced with the challenges created by the related economic downturn that has massively affected every segment of the economy—and most of our clients.

Agency work efforts have been dominated by helping clients to pivot from planned campaigns and strategies to a COVID-19 response has. When agencies weren’t focused on client messaging and emergency initiatives, they were managing their own business challenges. That meant that the area of agency operations that often is first to suffer when an agency gets busy, or has to cope with a crisis—new business—was tabled at most smaller ad agencies.

RSW-US, the agency search and new business specialists, surveyed marketers and ad agencies in March 2020 about budgets, ad spending, and plans for the near future. They revisited these same groups in early May, and issued a follow-up survey reporting on whether those circumstances or plans had changed since March.

Surprising Stability Since March

By and large, marketers (clients) held to their spending and marketing plans, aside from shifting more to digital marketing tactics. Agencies also reported that most of their clients remained committed to marketing and were thinking about near-term messaging. No one is making long-term plans right now.

Meanwhile, agencies have barely begun to adjust their new business efforts to respond to the crisis—and the opportunities it may present.

Responses to the May 12 survey revealed that 69% of ad agencies adjusted their own messaging or positioning since the crisis began, compared to 55% in the March survey… “but it is surprising it is not 100%,” said the RSW team. Agency messaging should shift to be more forward-looking, just as their clients have set aside most COVID-19 emergency messaging and adapted toward reopening business. Also, while 26% of agencies said their new business activities are at the same level as before the crisis, just 51% have increased new business efforts… and 23% have actually decreased their new business programs.

Never Stop New Business Pursuit

Like the best practice of advertising through a crisis that we coach to clients, pursuing new business consistently and strategically is an ad agency best practice that should be ongoing. When agencies stop filling the pipeline with potential new accounts or projects, they put their businesses at risk. Especially during a downturn, new business pursuit should continue to protect against slashed budgets or possible client losses.

As to future new business plans, 53% of agencies told RSW they are only “somewhat prepared” to find and win new business as states reopen. Congratulations to the 33% of agencies who claimed to be “very well prepared.”

“Unlike a good deal of your work for clients, where your control of deadlines and direction is driven by client changes and needs, your new business strategy is controlled entirely by YOU,” says RSW. Now is the time to step up new business efforts, with a focus on hot prospects and A-list businesses you believe can benefit from your smart, timely advice and strategic planning.

Read How to Pitch New Business When Marketers Are Cutting Budgets for ideas on pursuing prospects and reactivating clients during a downturn. And call us if you need to strategize on positioning, list-building or pitching from your remote workspace.

Marketing 101: You can’t score unless you stay in the game.


Thanks to the RSW-US team for sharing their surveys and advice with Second Wind members.


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