by Danny Turnbull, Agency Consultancy Services

I came back to work (well my underground home office) a few weeks ago for a ‘soft landing’ into 2023, having properly switched off for the first Christmas in a few after a hugely busy back quarter to last year where I foolishly only took 2 days leave and onboarded 6 new clients. This was of course followed by the inevitable Christmas day crash/man flu which became an annual tradition when I was doing demanding agency roles.

This isn’t one of the slew of resolution posts you’re probably already drowning under however I have decided to be kinder to myself in 2023 which I’m very excited about – being kinder and 2023!

I think this will be another exhilarating year for us all at a macro level and also in the agency space. My dad, a famous marketing professor now deceased, used to often quote the Chinese proverb – ‘may you live in interesting times’. That’s certainly been the case in recent years, and whilst I am no amateur futurologist (just a frustrated economist) I think this year will be no less ‘interesting’ than the last two.

It feels like we’ve all developed collective amnesia about the lockdowns of 2020 (who wants to remember HouseParty, Kahoot and Tiger King …) and seemed desperate to replace it with another succession of crises – Xmas parties, Prime ministerial resignations, wars in Europe, Energy crisis, cost of living crisis …

I can honestly say I was never a tin foil hat wearing CVD denier and by the same measure am not a recession denier, however it’s worth noting that despite 12 months of trying to talk ourselves into one, the UK economy still wasn’t officially in recession in December although it’s fairly certain 2023 will present more challenging trading conditions.

I’m uncomfortable with the ‘I’ve had a good covid’ narrative as clearly many did not, but I was lucky in the sense that it forced me to make some huge changes which I’d never have made without such strong external forces. Having spent 30 years working in agencies (my childhood and dad’s dream), and 15 years being lucky enough to lead some really great ones, I’d trained and talked about being a Non Exec (NXD) for years but finally made the plunge (pivot!) after brief and hugely unsuccessful spells as a gardener and home schooler.

Now into my 3rd year as an NXD I’ve been lucky to work with close to 100 agencies of all different shapes and sizes, and whilst I’d change none if it, being an agency MD is a tough, lonely role at times, so is brilliant to have recaptured my love for our industry.

CVD also ironed out a lifetime of presenteeism in me and our space meaning I’ve worked virtually with close to 100 agencies of all different shapes and sizes, and enter this year with a nearly full client book of ambitious, like minded agencies.

Looking back, at the start of 2020 agencies’ number one focus shifted rapidly from people/talent to new business as they scrabbled to get their revenue back up to pre CVD levels, but as the market returned after that summer the pendulum swung back to people and delivery, with talent (retention, attraction and management) being the biggest challenge for agency leadership. Throughout that time I counselled all clients to keep their marketing ‘on’, to avoid the boom/bust Kondratiev cycle that turning agency marketing on and off creates (just be more selective about what they take on and make sure rates increase to cover rising input costs).

As we approached the end of last year we started to see the heat come out of the hiring market and pipelines start to slow down. I’ve stressed the need to not do the same with this talent focus, it would be a shame to throw away all that good work especially in a market where our only raw material is our people.

Sailing in a storm is fun, and it’s obvious stuff that you need to focus on cash, tighten up your commercial protocols and run that ship tightly but also to double down on marketing (for God’s sake don’t follow this idiot government’s advice to reduce marketing expenditure), don’t be cowed by negative talk – everyone knows that smart marketers market through recessions and that agencies should be exemplars of that.

If you want an informal chat about this or how I work with agency leaders drop me a DM on LI, I have one or two more spaces for private clients during 2023.