A few industry takeaways from a totally throwaway year.

I don’t know about you, but I’m still processing 2020. And that’s limiting the topic to just advertising and marketing––the public health, economic and social issues are way over my head. The experts say to write about what you know. So, here’s what I know.

My rear-view-mirror look at 2020 reveals a pattern similar to Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. Perhaps with an extra helping of denial. As events were canceled in March, I remember having conversations about rescheduling them for that summer. We were so young and naïve.

To be honest, we were clueless. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. And as an industry, we panicked––which is rarely a useful marketing strategy. But the chaos of 2020 did serve up some insights for us at Ten Pound Hammer. What did we, as a creative agency, learn? Couple of things.

Technology can’t solve every problem.
I’m convinced that 2020 is the year our business became completely dependent on technology. To be fair, we were already there. But the past year made it crystal clear. And as we jettisoned the last of things not made of pixels or measured in clicks, we encountered some very human obstacles. Most obvious to me is that few people actually understand the technological master we serve on a daily basis. Walking clients through the process of clearing their cache left me thinking, “how did this become what consumes most of my time?” All of us––on both sides of the desk––need a better education on the vast array of moving parts involved in the platforms we now depend on.

There are no short cuts.
It’s not a scientific study by any means, but around mid-March I became aware of how many industry self-help companies had my email address. At least three times a week I received offers promising to fill my calendar with qualified new business leads. This is the sales and marketing equivalent of a program to lose ten pounds in just one week and works about as well. Jumping straight to lead generation and cold-call selling forgoes the steps that actually create interest and inspire relationships. You simply can’t bypass the need to have a relevant and well-defined brand.

Don’t rely on price cuts.
We’ve had conversations with brands that fell on both sides of this issue. The past year insisted that we sharpen our estimating pencils, and be more flexible regarding client budgets. It’s a fact that many of us don’t have the luxury of billing at 2019 rates. But when you’re in a competitive sales situation, discounts are a race to the bottom. Years ago, I learned there’s always a cheaper alternative out there. My 2020 hindsight leaves no doubt that today, businesses that survive are the option clearly delivering the most value over the long haul.

I’m reminded of a conversation with a brand’s purchasing department during an RFP process. I was told, “the other agency is cheaper, but we like your plan better. Can we get everything you outlined, but at their (significantly) lower budget?” Aside from my initial annoyance with the question, I found myself in the middle of a teachable moment. I replied that yes, we can reduce the budget… but we’ll have to reduce the plan. Ideas have value. And that story had a happy ending.

I’ve shared my top industry takeaways from last year. But I’m curious––what lessons have you gleaned from 2020? Send me a note, or leave a comment. Or if you want to retain your anonymity, you can take this short survey. I’ve already had some really enlightening responses. I’d love to have yours, too.