by AARON WADE, director, public relations, CanspanBMG Inc.

Jump back about three and a half months ago: You were ready to hit the ground running for 2020 with a strong product lineup, excited retailers, stellar plans to get the word out, and you have just engaged a great marketing agency to help you execute on that plan. But then things changed.

In late January, the spread of COVID-19 led to mandatory quarantines in parts of China — where 84% of toys are manufactured — and it started to appear that this might impact your business.

Fast-forward to today and you’re working from home, trying to keep up with ever-changing information, washing your hands every ten minutes, and trying to figure out how to adapt the various aspects of your business. During this time of uncertainty, the last thing you should be worried about is your outside marketing partner, wondering what they are doing and if they are thinking strategically about your business.  

Whether you hired them for their expertise or because you did not have the manpower to manage the activities in-house, agencies should be leading these conversations. At the end of the day, they are not the center of your world, but you should be the center of theirs. Every agency is different, but there are a number of activities that an agency could be doing to provide support. Here are a few that show your outside partner is continuing to add value to your business during this crisis. 

Consistent Communication 

As information around COVID-19, social distancing, and quarantines are changing rapidly, your agency should be talking to you more often than normal. There are a lot of questions that they will need to ask in order to understand how to best work with you moving forward, and your agency should be leading those discussions. They should be providing insight into how the ongoing crisis impacts your marketing strategies, results, letting you know where opportunities are being created, and how best to take advantage of them.

Change in Strategy

As your business is adapting, you should be looking at your external marketing team to lead on updating your plans for the year. These updates can range from shifting budgets and ad spends, moving up or delaying influencer programs, focusing on targeting other forms of media, and rethinking events or announcement timing. Changes might be extremely creative in nature and could set a standard for how you look at marketing in the future, or they could be simple shifts that are short-lived because of the unpredictability of what is going on. The main thing you want to see from an outside partner from a strategic standpoint is that they are alert and resourceful, shifting priorities to fit your current needs, and looking for opportunities to continue building momentum.

Reporting 

As you implement new strategies across various marketing channels, your agency should be showing you how this impacts results and explaining how this will overall affect key performance indicators (KPIs). Your agency should be highly adaptable and this should be results-based. Whether you are looking at return on ad spend, influencer and media relations, or social posting, decisions moving forward should be made based on metrics and done in part with you as the client. 

Understanding and Flexibility

Some partners are indispensable to the way that you operate your business and others are there to lighten the load, but at the end of the day, your agency is an outside partner. They should be understanding to what you, as a leader in your business, are going through. This means that they need to be open to uncomfortable conversations about your relationship and be flexible about how it may change in the coming months. Budgets may be reduced, invoices may need to be paid later than usual, deadlines could shift, and points of contact could change — all forcing the agency to adapt their services and scope of work. A good partner will be open to these honest discussions and willing to make exceptions based on these exceptional circumstances. 

You bring on outside partners to improve your ability to grow your business. Even at times like this, agencies’ main focus should be to do just that. This crisis provides us an unprecedented opportunity to be creative, experiment, and look at marketing in a new light, and your agency should be excited to be part of that journey with you.