Most importantly, both words are more layered than the 'speed' and 'changeability' boxes into which they have been neatly assigned. 

Any business making use of an external agency to manage their communication needs will probably have heard these two words at some point in 2020 — more than likely during an online strategy or briefing session.

But the following questions still need to be asked:
  • Has this sentiment impacted the service that has been delivered?
  • Has your company's strategic messaging changed as a result?
  • Has your corporate communication been reactive or responsive?
  • Was it impactful or impotent?
  • Does the impact of agile and adaptive messaging jump out in your strategic communications?
If not, then circle back to those words. Agility and adaptability, at their best, require a strategic communications firm to incorporate a company's steep learnings during times of crisis into their creative thinking.

This requires a deep relationship that is close enough for the agency to fathom the effect of a change in systems or approach, which appreciates the complexities behind operational thought processes and the risks embedded in the new landscape of business.

When this is in place, agility becomes about value and learning from the past and growing as a result. Adaptability morphs into an innovative mindset focused on responding effectively and with flexibility to solve complex problems.

If your existing business model has been radically disrupted and turned on its head by the current crisis, and if you have had to transform the way you operate and come to market, then your communication needs will be far more strategic and more closely aligned to your business objectives.

"Clients are looking for different things from their agencies at the moment," says Marc Watson, Promise co-founder and executive creative director. "Clients are looking for responsiveness from their communications partners and a deeper understanding of their business and a commitment to weathering this storm together."

This means that agencies themselves have to offer more than advertising and communications insights; they need to step into the shoes of their clients and actively work to understand their pressures, challenges and long-term ambitions.

By taking on the role of 'change-preneurs', agencies have the potential to deliver real and lasting value to clients.

The significance of partnering with an agency that 'gets your world', delivers on its promises and exceeds expectations is critical at this point in time. This calls on agencies to ensure they are delving into client challenges and perceptions and asking questions that take into account the current flux, as well as rapidly shifting consumer trends and ways of working.

It's very easy to focus on surface issues and shifts such as working from home or digital pitching as examples of agility, but everyone has been forced in this direction, so these are hardly differentiators.

Instead, to walk with our clients and mould a service offering that adapts and embraces the present and future needs of the client's business and the operational context is what will set agencies apart in the future. And that means putting palpable and creative solutions on the table for clients.

These shifts are not new. The client-agency relationship has been steadily evolving in this direction over recent years. The current crisis merely accelerated the push.

The agencies of tomorrow must be focused on more than just the ability to deliver creatively on a brief. For example, in the case of insurer PPS, Promise was able to step in during lockdown, when disposable incomes were under pressure and the value of the insurance industry was being interrogated, and work closely with the client to adapt an existing campaign on customer acquisition to reflect the new reality.

The fluidity of communication needs, coupled with the ability to respond with intelligence and brand awareness, favours the partnership approach of smaller and mid-level agencies. It's a shift that offers dynamic and innovative agencies an edge over big, globally-aligned firms.

But many communications professionals across the board are not prepared to interrogate their own skills-sets using the lens of 2020 as a learning platform to transform the client-agency relationship into a fertile partnership?

Agencies that refuse to adapt themselves will certainly be caught on the back foot. Every company must stop to reflect on what 2021 has in store and how they need to communicate in this context.

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