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9 Retention Strategies for Digital Marketing Agencies During COVID-19


As we face a global crisis, many businesses are suffering, and digital marketing agencies are not exceptions. But that doesn’t mean agencies are without options. We have already seen some incredible creativity, as agencies shift their strategies, product lines, service offerings, and their overall business operations in order to make it through the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are a freelance marketer or work at an agency, read on to learn strategies for retaining clients and operating during COVID-19, including:


Retention strategies for digital marketing agencies

Times are certainly trying but rather than looking at the adverse effects and possibilities, focus on the presented challenges with optimism and creativity. As agency owners and client account managers, we’re accustomed to being on our toes and we thrive in this as it’s a constant in our profession. Platforms arise, ad placement pop up, strategies evolve, and testing and optimization are continual. Add the state of current events to the mix and brainstorm ways with your teams and your clients on how everyone can maintain and even pull ahead.

1. Save and survive

The biggest part of client retention for us and many others we’ve spoken with at agencies has been effective communication, flexibility, empathy, and understanding. We almost lost two of our largest clients in the last few weeks but managed to keep them on our roster by presenting them with alternative options for campaigns, budgets, tactics, and suggestions of how they can adjust their messaging. We also collaborated on brainstorming ways that these clients can change up their manufacturing operations to stay in business. Upon discussion and implementation, both remained as clients. Though one slightly decreased their ad spend, the other kept things going as they were before because they realized that if they pulled back now, it may be a downward spiral for their business and then we would lose them anyway.

It was all about shifting messaging for marketing during COVID-19 and managing customer expectations. It isn’t just about surviving as agencies and keeping our jobs, it’s about helping our clients survive this, as well. Consider it a team sport and while the opponent is time and other unknown variables, we are all on the same team.

American Airlines COVID-19 ad

We’re all on the same team is a common theme in marketing right now, too.

While we were glad to retain our clients now, we understand that may not be the case in the coming weeks as everything is in flux, so we aren’t sitting still. We’ve heard of other agencies losing some clients already, especially if they are in more affected industries, such as travel and hospitality. If your clients need to scale back on budget or engagements, try one of the following before making drastic changes to the aforementioned.

2. Be lenient and understanding

We’ve been lenient on last-minute budget changes, pulling back on campaigns, postponing launches, and a client or two when they needed a few extra days to pay an invoice. As long as there is an open line of communication and transparency as things are so touch and go, day to day, it is important to be much more fluid than usual.

3. Forego pricing increases

If you were planning any price increases taking place in coming months and had already announced them, you may want to postpone. If you were discussing budget increases with a client beforehand and it was tied to your percentage of management fee, you may want to discuss this with your clients as well and do what is in their best interest in order to keep them as a client.

These things may bring some relief to your clients if you proactively discuss it. While not an agency, here’s an effective way that QuickBooks conveyed something similar to their customers in a recent email:

QuickBooks email during COVID-19

4. Think outside the box

We’ve recently implemented a “think outside of the box” day and scheduled meetings with our team and with our clients to brainstorm and then present ideas from every end of the spectrum that could possibly help us stand out in our efforts and to drive leads and retain our clients. These get our team and our clients energized, and it’s amazing what stems through these conversations as we share ideas that we spent the prior day or two brainstorming.

These have ranged from creating a new service offering, testing new channels for business development or advertising a client’s goods, or a unique strategic approach for a new campaign and cross-promoting it across their various channels for increased reach and visibility. While appetites for testing may be minimal at this time, CPCs are down across most channels and competition has scaled back, so investing in the future of your agency and your clients business could be in your best interest if you are able to.

When it comes to clients and seeing what other brands are doing to keep things afloat, to stay relevant, and to be altruistic, it has been inspiring. Here’s a great example.

Oatly email during COVID-19

If you can, set aside some time for out of the box thinking and brainstorm ways your clients can respond to the current pandemic.

5. Go back up the funnel

As an example, we have begun running more engagement, awareness, and video views Facebook and Instagram campaigns for our clients as they are less expensive and we don’t want to do hard selling via conversion campaigns right now. As we go through each week of sheltering in place and being more comfortable in our new ways of life and business, we are seeing more people engage with ads and slowly begin coming back to make purchases through these upper-funnel campaigns, even with warmer retargeting audiences.

If you haven’t yet, test upper-funnel campaigns for prospecting and retargeting campaigns as it will save your clients some money and keep them working with you.

6. Shift the focus

Sure, it’s about us as an agency and wanting to survive, but we also want our clients to survive. So that’s what we’re focusing on.

We’ve shifted the focus from hard selling and stressing the features of products to the customer or a gift recipient and how they would feel about said product/service. While it’s still early, results have been promising for our clients.

care package ads on Etsy

Check out the specialized ad copy for these care packages on Etsy, for example.

7. Communicate with clients proactively

If your agency has been affected by coronavirus, either by having to switch your teams to working remotely, if their account management team has changed in size due to layoffs or furloughs, it’s important to be proactive and to contact each with a personalized note to inform them of any changes to their accounts. If your agency is fortunate to not have had any changes at this time, aside from working remotely, it would be comforting to inform your clients none the less and keep them updated on the status of your business as well. It’s a time for trust and collaboration in order for businesses to succeed.

While personalized messaging is best via email, next time you are on a call with your clients, set aside some time and add in a discussion about this topic on your meeting agenda. Another way to inform people is on your website, so that visitors, whether they are leads or existing customers, can easily find the information that they need to know about your business during this unprecedented time. This can be in the form of a banner at the top of your site and via a more detailed evergreen landing page or a blog post, which you can link to in the header banner, too.

As an example, here is what we did on our advertising agency website, AKvertise.

Akvertise website banner during COVID-19

If your clients are affected, pass these recommendations on to them as well and show them some examples of what other brands are doing so that people are informed about their retail store hours or closings or shipping times if there are delays. Here’s an example from Kohl’s:

Kohls banner during COVID-19

If your agency or your client’s brick-and-mortar location is closed, make sure it is updated on the SERP, too.

Ulta Beauty GMB example

8. Support your employees for working remotely

When it comes to working remotely, there are many ways that you can help motivate your team, boost their morale, and increase their productivity. Our agency launched fully remote back in 2014, though, I worked in-house for a company remotely for three years prior to that, so I got a bit of practice. I began working with a laptop from my couch and in comfortable clothes and gradually built my now home office, which has significantly improved my productivity. If this is new for you, treat your work day as if you were going into the office, except our commute is from one room to another or from your couch to your table.

Here is an excellent breakdown of work from home tips from SEO and remote veteran, Aleyda Solis.

When it comes to tools, there are many available, however, to get you started, here are some that we use for our team and for our clients:


9. Look into federal relief options

If your agency is in a tough place or heading towards considering layoffs, the US Small Business Administration is offering SBA loans to small businesses. Learn more about what that entails and if your agency qualifies here.

In addition, there is also the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act or CARES Act that was recently passed in Congress, which instates the Paycheck Protection Plan (PPP). This provides up to $349 billion in forgivable loans to small businesses. The PPP can potentially help cover payroll and some benefits, interest on mortgages, rental lease payments, and utilities as long as they are within certain dates.

PPP vs SBA

To qualify for PPP, one of the criteria is that your business has under 500 employees. You can apply as of April 3 if you are a small business or a sole proprietor. If you are an independent contractor or a self-employed individual working in marketing or advertising, you can begin applying on April 10. The program will remain open through June 30, 2020, however, if you find that you may need this assistance sooner rather than later, begin your applications now as there is a limitation on available funds. For more info, we’ve broken the PPC down in more detail here.

Focusing on your clients will help your agency

We don’t quite know when we will be on the other side of COVID-19, but we can work to actively redesign our road maps for our agencies and help our clients do the same. If they find success, even in small amounts, you will, too. Good luck and stay healthy.


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