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April 2, 2020

What business leaders want from agency partners in their greatest time of need

 

Six years ago, the dream of having my own business came to fruition with the birth of Anthem. In the most surreal of weeks, Carolyn, my business partner, and I have stuck to our guns to progress the succession plan we put in place at Anthem’s outset. For Caro to take up the mantle as managing director and for me to move into the chair role. Bizarrely it seemed like just the right time as we need to focus our skills on what each of us does best.

 

I’ve used the past few weeks to take stock of Anthem’s journey in six years, in order to continue planning for the agency’s future in what will be a vastly different New Zealand.

 

At the outset, Anthem was shaped from my learnings as a partner and shareholder in several previous agencies, along with insights from some of New Zealand’s C-suite leaders on what they were looking from their communications partners. I then went back to more than 30 business leaders last year to canvass them for their views on the future of agencies.

 

As I reflect on this research and how we’ve applied it to Anthem’s evolution, many of the insights hold true for us as we hone how we can best meet client needs in this forever-changed world.

 

In 2014, business leaders reinforced much of what I’d long believed about our profession, for example that it was time for senior PR practitioners to lead as we’re often privileged to have a wide purview across disciplines within a business.

 

Executives wanted to see agencies investing in understanding client strategy and business goals, and bringing insight and connections to assist in delivering those goals. They were looking for communications partners to be connected at a senior business and Board level.

 

In our original research, C-suite executives listed an understanding of Asia as mandatory for agencies supporting businesses. This holds especially true today as we look to how New Zealand’s future trade partners will change. We’ll be looking to strengthen our links with China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea – nations who have so far managed to contain Covid-19. As part of Anthem’s agile team, we have partners with deep knowledge of trade in key Asian countries and we’ll be looking to build on these as the economic ramifications of the pandemic continue to unfold.

 

From Day One of Anthem, we’ve given the Advisory part of our agency equal weighting to the Agency component. Our Advisory model allows us to co-create strategy with C-suite members and connect them with stakeholders they should know, which then flows into working communications strategies. The Agency team Caro and I have built comprises exceptional Anthemites who deliver end-to-end account service excellence.

 

As Anthem has evolved as an agency, key elements remain unchanged – our team is comprised of storytellers and strategists across the corporate and marketing aspects of our clients’ businesses, and discipline labels have become less relevant as we work across the board to build trusted brands and stellar reputations.

 

When I again talked with business leaders last year to garner their views on the future of agencies, I was ever grateful for the time, insights and connections they were so generous to share with me.

 

Executives also told me, “small is beautiful” and we’re already seeing this hold true as marketing spend contracts and businesses look for smart, cost-effective solutions that support on point strategy. Anthem is an example of a new breed of agency – independent, nimble, smaller and filling a gap between agencies and strategic consultancies. Now is the time for small, independent agencies to hold their own, pivot their service offer regularly and help businesses navigate through a long stretch of rough, unchartered waters.

 

Business leaders are looking for partnerships where client and agency win together, where pain and gain is shared, and where different charging models, free of unnecessary overheads, are devised.  This has really hit home in the past couple of weeks as we hunker down with clients facing their most challenging time, while ensuring our own team is well cared for.

 

As I continue to explore future opportunities for Anthem to best serve our clients, there are two fundamental elements of our agency DNA that will never change: our connection to clients’ top table and our agility to flex with speed to co-create communications and marketing solutions to business challenges and opportunities.

 

As a momentary segue, while our nimble model and size has allowed us to transition easily into remote working during this lockdown, we are very much missing being in the same physical space as our team and feeling the buzz of their individual and collective energy. We’re working on ways to keep our special culture at the forefront and will be sharing these with anyone looking for ideas for their own businesses.

 

Covid-19 will have a permanent impact on New Zealand’s already shrinking media landscape and marketing and communications budgets, which will lead to newsrooms and brands becoming even more reliant on each other for native advertising and branded journalism. On our client roster, we no longer have any clients who rely on us solely for traditional earned media relations. All of our client solutions feature multi-channel, highly-targeted approaches.

 

With uncertainty at an all-time high, more than ever, New Zealanders need business leaders to communicate effectively for their own people and for customers. Anthem has an established executive communications programme, which involves auditing and coaching, and the preparation we’ve done for a number of clients equips them to be communicating with confidence and empathy as they look to guide their people and share information with customers and stakeholders.

 

Caro and I are incredibly proud of how Anthem’s offering and our talent pool has broadened to meet the needs of our clients, but we also recognise we can’t be everything to everyone. This is one of the fundamental reasons we planned for our leadership change, Caro stepping into the managing director role frees up bandwidth for me to focus on providing strategic input to our clients, governance oversight to the agency and continuing to innovate our offer.

 

I’m already immensely proud of how Caro’s superb leadership skills have been demonstrated in the last few weeks to nurture our team culture and provide clients with wise counsel. She empowers our high performance team, enabling Anthemites to thrive. Caro is 100% focused on our vision to develop and reinvent a world-class, leading-edge integrated communications and marketing agency. She’s courageous, compassionate and catalyses our team to be their best.

 

And finally, if I look back to how we came to be ‘Anthem’.

 

Anthems are unifying, a collection of moving words sung in unison. Groups, communities, football teams and nations rally around their anthems, which can be an extraordinary collective experience. Never has our team felt a greater responsibility to help clients to find their own unifying words and to use their most powerful voice.

 

If you’re currently grappling with a business challenge or are in need of communications support, please feel free to get in a touch for a confidential discussion. We’d be happy to take on any suggestions or ideas on how we flex and adapt our services to better serve you during these trying times.

 

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