Coronavirus & your agency: My latest guidance on COVID-19

Written by: Karl Sakas

Wondering how to prepare for coronavirus at your agency? No one knows for sure—but as an agency consultant, here’s what I’m thinking about in this time of uncertainty. (For the latest advice, see my in-depth COVID-19 Agency Resource Center.)

Early into my dating an epidemiologist, she randomly asked how I felt about cruises. I said I hadn’t been on a cruise before; it would depend on the details. She replied, “As a rule, epidemiologists avoid cruises.”

The relationship didn’t work out, but I thought about her comment amidst the spread of coronavirus.

How should you prepare for coronavirus? And how will COVID-19 impact your agency?

The exact answer is “it depends.” But here’s what I’m thinking about as an agency consultant…

How coronavirus might impact your agency… and what to do during the uncertainty

If you own or run an agency, I’d start by considering these 10 points.

1. Accept that we’re in a complex, tightly-coupled system. If you haven’t yet, read the book Meltdown: Why Our Systems Fail and What to Do About It. The key premise is that complex systems are more likely to fail than simple systems, and tightly-coupled systems are more likely to fail than loosely-coupled systems. The world is a complex system, and things are increasingly tightly-coupled. Once you read the book, you’ll likely think about specific implications closer to home.

2) Prepare for recession. I shared my advice on recession prep last year. Now more than ever, build your cash reserves, seek additional credit (if you can), diversify your lead-gen, and prepare for worst-case scenarios. The stronger your current financial position, the more options you’ll have.

3) Assume that employees and clients are distracted. On a visit to Portland, my Lyft driver said he emigrated from the Ukraine to escape the war there. He mentioned abandoning his small business in the Ukraine—because in wartime, business isn’t important; you only care about keeping your family safe. This isn’t war… but everyone’s priorities have shifted; productivity will likely drop.

4) Over-communicate to your employees. They’re worried about themselves and their families. No one’s 100% focused at work anyway… but that’s especially true during a crisis. They want to know that you care about how coronavirus impacts them and their jobs. What’s your plan if schools close and their kids are home 24/7? What if you lose big clients? You’re thinking about the “what ifs”; they are too, and they want to know what you’ve decided so far.

5) Over-communicate to your clients. Your clients aren’t focused on marketing, other than needing to get enough revenue in the door. Some clients are doing really well—like a client’s client that sells camping food. Other clients aren’t—like clients’ clients in the travel and tourism industry. And others aren’t sure yet, but know uncertainty is to come.

6) Prepare for physical isolation. This might be a country- or city-wide lockdown, quarantine during travel, or self-isolation due to you or a family member being exposed. You may or may not be sick yourself. Have you stocked-up in a way that makes sense, without drifting into hoarding?

7) Pause off-brand advertising and marketing campaigns. For instance, the Alitalia “shop ’til you drop in Italy” advertising campaign seems more literal than figurative right now. Start by auditing what’s running and about to run, and make sure you stop anything that’s likely to be problematic.

8) Weigh whether travel and in-person events are worth it. As a co-organizer of FOMO Retreat in Alaska, we added a 100% refund guarantee… and then decided to postpone the event to 2021. I won’t be speaking at Traffic & Conversion Summit in April, because they’re postponing, too. See my 2020 conference roundup for the latest event updates.

9) Support your community… but don’t rely on others to save you. This was an issue in aviation 50 years ago, where passengers would wait for the flight attendants to save them. But the crew might be incapacitated themselves; you need to save yourself.

10) Be careful about conspiracy theories and rumors. Some people are more inclined to believe conspiracy theories than others. Sometimes this is harmless, and other times not so much. You’ll have to weigh what’s right for you… but there are implications to your choice of news sources.

Dig Deeper: Resource Center, and Free Q&A Call

Want to dig deeper, including getting my answers to your specific questions? For the latest advice, see my in-depth COVID-19 Agency Resource Center.

It includes the recording of my Q&A call on agencies and COVID-19, from March 19, 2020. In the video, I share 25 minutes of slides and nearly an hour of Q&A.

Question: How are you handling the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic at your agency?

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