A Pandemic-Driven Mindset Shift – The Great Unlearning


J. Mark Riggs, CEO, TPC Growth

The world has become an unfamiliar place. Our industry has been flipped on its head, disrupted, disbanded and in some respects, dismantled. Before the pandemic we had become too comfortable. We had strayed too far from the principles of great account management. Now we don’t have the luxury of comfort. We are fighting for survival.  

If we are who we think we are: creative, innovative, different and results driven, then we must “Unlearn and Reframe.” We must stop trying to make what worked work. We must understand that the future of our business depends on organic growth, and that may be found in some uncomfortable places. Our ethics guide us, of course, but the rule book (if there ever really was one) is gone. This is the time of The Great Unlearning, the advent of The New Thinking.  

Recent Kantar research revealed two statistics that should be shared with clients:

1) Brands that maintained a SOV during the 2008 financial crisis recovered 9-times faster 

2) For brands ‘going dark’ to cut costs, it is estimated that a 6-month absence will result in a 39 percent reduction in total brand awareness

Here are three additional thoughts for your consideration:

1) Unlikely Bedfellows

It’s time to put everything on the table. For small to mid-sized agencies, find two to three agency leaders at other firms with whom you have solid, trusting relationships. Then bounce these off them: 

Is there an opportunity that can come from shared work, amplified areas of expertise, contract engagements, or even, if circumstances warrant, a temporary merger? There’s likely some way to compliment and collaborate, i.e., you do Consumer and they do B2B? You do earned, they do paid, etc.. There must be transparency, but there must be NO poaching of clients, employees, etc. The percentage of the business you bring to the table is what you leave with. And set a timeline. 90 days, 120 days … whatever it may be, but be clear. Make sure you talk to an attorney regarding structure.  

Remember, this is about  problem-solving, for ourselves and for our clients, with the objective of deepening our relationships.

2) Preserve the Partnership 

For those clients that have shut it down or have had to reduce budgets, keep the ideas coming anyway. Show the spirit of partnership. As agency management, we want our clients to treat us like partners, not vendors. But how often do we extend that same courtesy? This is an ideal opportunity. And your clients will remember

You may not be their agency of record for this period, but you can still be their partner, their friend and a resource for counsel.

3) The Junior Inquisition 

What employees are on the front lines daily, having conversations, hearing the client’s priorities, and more importantly, watching every move you make? Yep, the junior staff. Ask them what five things they would do for Client X if they were in-charge. Ask them to formulate their thoughts and present them to you. Now, because they may not understand how the budget works, or the professional dynamics, some of these ideas may be far-flung and undoable. But maybe, just maybe, there is a gem in there. The genesis of an idea that could change the relationship forever. Great ideas can come from anywhere. 

About the Author: Mark is the founder and CEO of TPC Growth which is management consultancy that exists to be the go-to resource for marketing/communications agencies to discover and reveal pathways to organic growth while changing the mindset of an RFP-obsessed industry. 

Before starting TPC Growth, Mark spent 20 years in the agency world working for IPG’s Mullen Lowe, an Ad Age A-List Agency, Taylor, the Holmes Report’s Consumer Agency of the Decade, MWWPR and French/West/Vaughan, the Southeast’s largest independent agency where on multiple occasions he grew small accounts into multi-million-dollar accounts.

Mark has a reputation as a business-builder and a strategic counselor and has experience in leading client services, insights and planning functions, as well as developing talent. A creative thinker and problem-solver, Mark believes that great thinking can “come from anywhere,” it’s the ability to harness it and leverage it for clients that makes the intellectual property of the agency valuable and an integral part of the marketing mix.