In this brutal climate, it pays to think more strategically.
The world’s in lockdown. Remote working is likely the norm for your clients as well as your agency. Video chats are a way of life, professionally and personally.
We’ve all had projects paused, postponed or cancelled. These are testing times. For anyone working with clients in the hardest-hit categories, such as travel and hospitality, it’s particularly brutal.
Protecting the health and job security of your team, and the long-term survival of your agency, are the order of the day. You need to hit the ground running once the dust settles.
To do that, it’s more important than ever to review what, and who, your agency is for. Short-term cashflow from current clients is key, but you must also keep communicating to prospective clients why design is an investment, not a non-essential cost. Of course, you must also convince them that your agency is best placed to add that value.
That’s where your content strategy comes in. When all the hatches are battened down, it might feel like you’re running to stay still. The priority list is long, and there are plenty of fires to fight. Clarity is what you need.
In recent months, I’ve been collaborating with three very different agencies to help clarify and communicate exactly what makes each of them special.
Two of them are industry veterans with already stellar client lists, looking for laser focus to explain the unique appeal of their purpose and process to the next great client.
The third is an exciting start-up with a compelling niche, keen to persuade brands of the value it can add.
With every brand imaginable filling inboxes with their take on the coronavirus outbreak, news feeds stoking anxiety and uncertainty, and the day-to-day filled with the practical challenges of handling the crisis, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees. But it’s essential to do so.
Is your portfolio working hard enough to win you new work?
I’ve heard the same problem from agencies of all sizes. Time is tight, the team is stretched, and hours spent updating the website aren’t billable.
Once a project is wrapped, it’s onto the next one. Writing the case study is all-too-often a necessary evil to keep the website fresh, perhaps feed into awards submissions further down the line, hopefully get some design press attention.
Stop. Look at it differently. Invest a little more in telling the story in the right way, and your completed projects don’t just show off what you did for one client – they show off how you can work with any client. They sell your creative process, not just your creative output.
Case studies can tell a powerful story about what makes you unique, and why clients should hire you. But to get it right, you need a content strategy.
People fetishise ‘thought leadership’. And if you have something genuinely thought-provoking to say, or an inflammatory opinion on the latest hot topic, it can be a great platform.
But to achieve real impact, you need to apply the same kind of strategic rigour to how you talk about your work. Use your case studies to add colour to a wider narrative about how you think, collaborate and solve problems – not just why you chose a particular typeface or colour palette.
So what does this look like in practice?
When Studio Output set out to redefine its strategic positioning – the agency “helps brands to adapt and thrive in a connected world” – I worked with the senior team to help craft a centrepiece article, setting out the stall.
At the heart of the piece was one core message: the experience of your digital products is what defines your brand. In order to thrive, established brands must adapt, embracing the potential of brand-led user experiences.
Crucially, the piece didn’t just discuss this topic in the abstract. Case studies for BBC Sport, Auto Trader and Pottermore were an integral part of that narrative, adding colour and substance to the argument, and making a compelling case to clients facing similar problems in different sectors that Studio Output’s approach could be the answer.
Sometimes a single project has enough value as a portfolio centrepiece to benefit from its own content strategy. Before the launch of Taxi Studio’s global Carlsberg rebrand, for instance, I collaborated with the agency to help identify the most interesting angles on the story.
My strategy was to split the project into three strands: re-crafting the core brand assets; developing a holistic packaging system; and exploring Carlsberg’s wider sustainability story, in which the rebrand played a key role.
After conducting a series of on-camera interviews with key figures involved with the rebrand from both agency-side and client-side, I scripted three short video documentaries – and worked with Taxi’s in-house editor to help tell the story in a succinct, engaging way. I also wrote accompanying long-form articles to dig deeper into each facet of the story.
The strategy worked, piquing the interest of different corners of the design press: Computer Arts went behind-the-scenes on the reworked brand assets; The Dieline ran an exclusive deep-dive on the packaging system; and Creative Review explored the sustainability story in more detail. The videos were also used in many successful awards submissions.
These two examples represent opposite ends of the same scale: one uses multiple case studies to add substance to a larger narrative, the other expands one case study to tell a multi-tiered narrative. But both offer value far beyond showcasing completed projects, and show prospective clients how these two top agencies solve creative problems in style.