Coronavirus – CEO experiences in advertising agencies

We asked our agencies to sum up their first experiences after the coronavirus hit the CEE ad markets, we followed them when they returned to their offices during the summer ease, learned how they prepared for the second wave and now we are sharing what the main takeaways are in the past year from agency CEO’s and managing director’s perspective.

The appearance of COVID-19 first paralyzed the media and ad markets, but after the first shock agencies quickly got back on track by switching to remote work and accommodating to growing clients’ need for intensifying digital presence. However, this prompt change in the ordinary workflow and the initial halt in advertising activities posed new challenges on employees and leaders as well.

Biggest challenges for CEOs – Keeping up the spirit

All our partner agency CEO agreed on the hardest part: keeping up the agency spirit while handling the immense uncertainty of the market. Hrvoje Skurla, CEO and Creative Director of Croatian creative agency, Pink Moon admitted: “We survived and today we are in a much better state of mind than last spring. Honestly, at the beginning of lockdown we were lost.”

Clients stepped on the breaks immediately regarding their advertising activities, which resulted in budget cuts, and made leaders face the need for possible staff layoff, although ad spends bounced back, especially by the end of the year. Our partner agencies reported that they survived this period without any employee dismissal but besides the health and economic concerns people had to deal with.

Common denominator: human contact

Žarko Sakan, CEO of Balkan agency network New Moment summarizes the most missed thing, human interactions: “Our colleagues at are home, practically alone, which makes company spirit and culture harder to keep alive. We weren’t able to meet our client personally either, not to mention other partners from the region or Europe, and this sadly brought less new business too.”

The lack of human contact thus keeping up team spirit was the major challenge for employees as well. Dražen Bračić, Managing Director of Ascanius Media Croatia explained that the uncertainty of the economic situation and of course the worry for themselves and their families were topped with the pressure of isolation and the absence of everyday contacts, meetings and the ease of discussing, working on ideas together.

This flow of ideas and energy proved to be an immensely important facet of agency life. Creative thinking through constant personal interaction is essential for innovative solutions. Zoltan Szigeti, President of Romanian The Group shares his experience: “The concept of “team” (with hours of debates around the table, long days and nights of brainstorming and creative meetings is very hard to replicate during online meetings”.

Working from home brought another distress with itself: the struggle of finding work-life balance.: László Szarvas, CEO of Café Reklám says: “Remote work blurred the lines between personal and work life, and when work moved to personal spaces, there are no longer well defined dedicated working hours. People find it harder to recharge, which imposes extra mental stress on everyone.”

Weronika Szwarc-Bronikowska, Vice-President of Polish Media People emphasizes another important aspect of working from home: “Working from home put more responsibility on people’s shoulder to manage life under volatile circumstances. Especially women with younger children had to deal with work and taking care of children at the same time.”

Finding sustainable solution to transformed needs

Although the lockdown induced stress and ambiguity at first, after more than a year we are able to back on the changes which have pushed agencies even further and made companies more resilient. Although some of the agencies were prepared for remote work, the past year of constant online work proved that it is less important when, where and how much do than the final result of the work.

Most of our partners said this novelty will most likely stay with us on the long run, although different needs call for different solutions. As Dražen Bračić puts it, to be able to work remotely is no longer a benefit but a requirement for employees. More remote work can spare time and money on commute, it can make international meeting easier to hold, but one thing is for sure: no money-saving can outweigh personal presence in certain situations.

Žarko Sakan says that the minority of people enjoys working from home, and they are trying to accommodate to their needs, while most people need some sort of a mixed model, occasional online meetings with clients. Zoltan Szigeti confirms this approach: “We are striving for a hybrid model of work, where teams would only need to work together for major campaigns or events, and we will encourage individual creativity and full responsibility for certain brands to certain individuals, rather than teams.”

The changes of past year are also mirrored in clients’ needs: the demand for digital activities exploded, PR is also on the rise, and these alterations have granted new business for agencies, while the event industry is still looking for ways to survive. László Szarvas says: “We are ready to work with our clients no matter the circumstances and we are eager to find solutions to newly emerging needs.”

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