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WARC Trends in Agency Planning Function Influence Aug2020The majority of strategists agree (27%) or strongly agree (68%) that clients need strategists more in a time of uncertainty. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly qualifies as one of those times… Here’s what a global survey [subscription required] of agency strategists from WARC reveals about what the future holds for their function.

Some 7 in 10 strategists agree (40%) or strongly agree (29%) that the COVID-19 crisis will fundamentally change the way agencies work. As such, WARC speculates that the pandemic has resulted in a larger share of strategists feeling that the planning function within their agency will have more influence this year than it has in recent years.

In 2019, 55% of strategists believed that planning would have more influence within their agency than the year before. That share grew to 59% this year, compared to fewer than 1 in 10 believing that the planning function would decline in importance.

COVID-19 Necessitates New Strategic Thinking

Even prior to the pandemic, overall marketing strategy was one of the top capabilities many businesses required from an agency. Per WARC’s report, since the pandemic, a full 94% of strategists report that at least some of their clients have required new strategic thinking in response to the pandemic, with a plurality (48%) saying that at least half of their clients have required their services in this area.

Added to that, 8 in 10 (81%) report that at least some of their clients have commissioned new creative work in response to the pandemic. This shift can also be seen in research from LinkedIn and Vision Critical, which found that the majority (64%) of marketers were finding creating proper content and messaging a challenge since the pandemic.

As part of this new creative, 57% of respondents have developed specific communications for clients on their COVID-19 response, while another 58% have revisited existing communications and adjusted them for the current climate. A majority of agencies have also conducted qualitative (75%) or quantitative (73%) consumer research for the use of all agency clients, while others have hosted webinars (73%) in response to the pandemic.

Strategy Skillset Hit Hardest by Decreased Headcount

About one-quarter (26%) of survey respondents say that agency headcounts have decreased due to COVID-19, while another 18% expect to see a decrease in staff in the coming few months. Of those skillsets being lost through these headcount decreases, junior strategists (41%) are the most typical followed by generalist strategists (37%). To a somewhat lesser extent, respondents also say they are losing senior strategists and management (28%) through COVID-19 related headcount decreases.

Freelancer strategists are also feeling the impact of the pandemic, with almost half (48%) of respondents reporting that their agency has reduced its use of freelancers at this time.

Furthermore, despite the perceived increased need for strategists during this time of uncertainty, two-thirds (68%) agree that they are having to work harder to prove their value, with 84% feeling the hours spent on strategy should be billable.

About the Data: Figures are based on a global survey of strategists, fielded May-June 2020.

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