This momentous event has presented a unique opportunity to reassess teamwork and our ways of working.
Both as individuals, with families, in communities and for business this has been a challenging time for us all.
The unwanted pandemic forced us all, in whatever roles we had, to rethink and reassess how we lived and worked. Millions died, economies were devastated and yet in these challenging times we rediscovered a sense of community, support for those unable to cope.
Teamwork at the community level
In these times communities tend to pull together not fragment. Relationships are created and strengthened to resist the external threat. Without these relationships communities tend to fail and society is damaged.
As someone who helped organise a local Covid support group that built a community of volunteers from scratch in a couple of weeks, and sustained it for nearly 2 years, helping the vulnerable with shopping, medicine and sometimes just someone to talk to, I wondered whether this positive action was reflected in the workplace.
Teamwork at the company level
At Aprais we have captured relationship data from more than 25,000 client-agency evaluations which can provide extraordinary insights about team performance.
So, we looked at this data across three time periods, pre pandemic, pandemic and post pandemic in EMEA to see if we could identify change and whether it might last. Now a note a caution here is warranted. This is a sample of our clients – both agencies and clients who already value relationships and are committed to relationship management and improvement. So perhaps it will be more difficult to see change?
in EMEA we see the agencies evaluation of their clients being sustained post pandemic whilst the clients slip back slightly but both are importantly still ahead of pre-pandemic scores.
When we dive deeper into the behaviours within client agency relationships, we find several interesting results.
Three imperatives of teamwork
Looking first at the changes in clients scoring their agencies we see scores universally down from pandemic scores but still a long way ahead of the pre-pandemic level. I’ve highlighted three important imperatives of teamwork.
It’s perhaps inevitable that there would be a movement back towards the pre-pandemic norm but there is still a significant margin or improvement that indicates something important has happened.
Similarly looking at agency scores of the client we can see that post pandemic scores are not only robust in some cases they are continuing to improve.
Changes in functional performance
Diving deeper we also found that gains in some functional areas like timing and process management and the perennial thorny issue of briefing are robust. Areas like partnering and collaboration exhibit further positive movement.
Perhaps we are seeing evidence that some relationship improvements are being maintained?
But when we delve deeper into the client scores of agencies, we see a retrenchment on 5 functional areas. Creative and production holds ground and financial management improves further. But collaboration, a key measure, is almost back to pre-pandemic levels.
Greater mutual dependency?
This seems to indicate that the goodwill generated by mutual survival in the pandemic needs to be captured and reflected in better working procedures. Analysing what really worked and why? Resetting the agency relationship with the benefits of a closer mutual dependency and not returning to the same old ways of working are opportunities not to be squandered.
Technology and teamwork
We also looked at frequency of contact. Let’s just remember the impact of technology here. It’s difficult to remember but pre pandemic most [non tech] client relationships were sterile emails and conference calls punctuated by infrequent human contact. The Pandemic forced us to discover that technological disruption had removed the need for expensive video conferencing suites and its now all workable at home vis Zoom/Teams etc. Without the pandemic would inertia have limited the speed of penetration for these services? Probably.
Keeping in touch
Teamwork hinges on communication. What’s interesting in frequency of contact is the difference between everyday contact scores by the agency and by the client.
We ask our participants to how frequently they interact with the other party. Our report on Contact Frequency is eyeopening.
When we examine the contact frequency before, during and after Covid, there is a clear difference in the client perception of everyday contact and the agency. Is this gap in perception of contact actually about the value to the contact and is this impacting that collaboration score fall? As we have seen in other data an ‘always on’ culture does not mean ‘always quality’ and will not therefore translate into improved relationship scores. The quality of interactions is always more important than the quantity.
New ways of working
So, what did the Pandemic do to relationships, and can we capture and keep the benefits of the changes forced on us?
We have changed our ways of working because technology let us cope with a pandemic. This has accelerated change in clients demands and improved the understanding of the agency offer. It has also led to the removal of old weak process [costs], increasing focus on the ability of agencies to think smarter and add value to their clients at pace.
But do we understand the impact on our talent? What are we doing differently, better, to improve their ability to build better day to day working relationships? What did we all do differently that suddenly resulted in better briefs?
At Aprais we believe that the pandemic was a valuable reset that created benefits in terms of better mutual understanding and common goals. Good clients and agencies have spent time working out a plan to sustain and share those benefits.
Opportunity to reset relationships
This means that you, both clients and agencies, all have permission to rethink and apply new ways of working. Many clients have rediscovered their need for and love of their agency relationships. Many agencies have realised that what they do best is valuable to their clients.
We passionately believe that better business relationships gives both agency and client a mutual competitive advantage. That advantage is going to help both, together, survive the coming economic storm better.
Our single-minded focus on building stronger relationships can help you create and sustain better business relationships. If you would like to find out more about how we can help you build stronger relationships.
This is a summary of a presentation given by Aprais to the recent EACA (European Association of Communications Agencies) national councils meeting in Athens. September 2022.
Julian Ingram is an Associate Partner at Aprais UK.