The agency pivot - when to do it and how to get it right
‘Pivot’ has made an early bid to be 2020’s word of the year. Although who knows? At the end of 2019 Dictionary.com declared existential to be the word of 2019. How little we knew back then.
Still, there’s an awful lot of pivoting going on right now, and with good reason. A lot of agencies are in bad shape. A fortnight ago Design Week found that the majority of designers have lost more than 75% of their business. You could argue that the 400 or so respondents to that survey were more likely to be those who had time to do it (and the situation among the 30 or so creative agencies we represent is on the whole nowhere near as dire as that) but still, any way you cut this, it’s not a good situation.
So, if you’re one of the many agencies that’s facing projects put on hold, budgets slashed, and pipelines drying up, is it time to pivot?
There’s no shortage of famous examples of successful pivots. Play-Doh started life as a wall cleaner, Nintendo as playing cards, and Nokia remarkably as a wood pulping business. In Silicon Valley you’re not really taken seriously until you’ve pivoted.
While few creative agencies will be able to perform such radical pivots, they can still radically reshape what they do and find new opportunities. The three areas where most can pivot is in the services they offer, the market they target, and the messages they put out.
It’s not easy to get right. The key to getting it right is to find the market that has the optimum combination of firstly a need for services that you offer (and can make money from), and secondly a credible story you can tell about why you’re the right agency to deliver those services. So, it’s easy to see that airlines and restaurants aren’t likely to have much need and that tech is a more fertile hunting ground. But tech is a vast sector. You need to get more granular. Which part of tech can you tell the most compelling story to? How does what you’ve done in the past translate to it?
As I said, it’s not easy. And at a time like this it’s hard to carve out the headspace to figure all these things out. When you’re so close to the work you do, the team you lead, and the agency you’ve spent years building, it can be hard to see the services you should focus on and the ones you need to drop. When you’re working flat out to deliver to increasingly demanding clients you’re not going to have the time to do the detailed rigorous and thinking needed to uncover the unexpected areas where you could win work, and then to craft stories that will land with them.
But get it right and it can be transformative. In the past six weeks we’ve been working with many agencies helping them pivot in this way, and we’re seeing new agencies emerge at super-fast speed.
What’s more the ones that are coming through this process are emerging in better shape not only to survive this crisis and the recovery, but also for the new normal that’s emerging around us.
No one wants to pivot. The guys at Nokia were probably pretty happy pulping wood. But sometimes it’s necessary.
Pivot won’t be the word of the year. The word of the year will of course be virus, possibly preceded by an expletive of your choice. But, still, for many agencies fearing for tomorrow, the solution today is a pivot. Do it quickly, do it well, and it may turn out to be one of the best things you ever did.