Why agencies and clients alike must boost their resilience post-COVID

Kim Walker, Founder & Chairman of Aprais on the importance of developing resilience, for both clients and agencies, in a post-COVID world.

Kim Walker, Aprais

Founder & Chairman


The industry, like the wider world, is taking tentative steps towards the ‘new normal’ after a year like no other. While it remains to be seen how the coronavirus pandemic will reshape the landscape, it’s clear the ability for teams to manage in times of crisis has come into sharper focus than ever before.

We aren’t talking about crisis management, a specific PR discipline, here. Responding to a crisis involves a set of qualities and behaviours all teams, and the individuals within them, need to be aware of and skilled in. These fundamental behaviours are the same whether the crisis is global or local, big or small.

They are the foundations of resilience, defined as the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and thrown into the spotlight by the COVID-19 crisis like never before.

In client-agency relationships, resilience is needed across all aspects of business performance and at all levels, from briefing and project management to approval, partnering and collaboration, research and insight, financial management and timing and process management. And yes, leadership. It’s why we’ve seen industry leaders like Arthur Sadoun at Publicis Groupe, and within Unilever, bandying the term about as something of a buzzword.

Resilience is a necessary behaviour and is likely to become even more important as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown.

Kim Walker

A dissatisfaction with agency resilience

As the world-leading experts in these relationships, here at Aprais we took a deep-dive into our database of more than 21,000 evaluations across 20 years, to see how agencies and clients measure up when it comes to resilience and how they can improve.

The bad news is historically agencies haven’t performed brilliantly in the eyes of marketers. In fact, they’ve consistently performed below client expectations.

Resilience scores are lower than overall agency performance scores, by on average 3.5%. Furthermore, crises of all levels, from the financial crash of 2008 to local product scares seem to accentuate this dissatisfaction with resilience.

It’s worth noting media agencies tend to perform better in the eyes of clients than creative shops, when it comes to resilience. But rather than indicate any particular strength of such agencies, this is more likely to be a result of the more numeric, financially linked nature of media which is easier for marketers to quantify. Digital agencies, which span the media/creative divide, score between media and creative agencies for resilience.

There’s a clear opportunity here for agencies to improve their performances, positively impacting their overall scores by boosting resilience.

Resilience is a necessary behaviour

By contrast Aprais’ data revealed client resilience scores remain roughly on a level with overall evaluations by agencies. But let’s not make the mistake of assuming clients have no work to do. In an industry dominated by performance-based payments, it makes sense agencies would be cautious to be overly critical of client behaviour. Nor does this mean resilience is a requirement solely of agencies; a brilliant rapid-response idea can easily be stifled by a client organisation that lacks agility.

In times of crisis agencies and clients alike need to be more challenging, using their initiative to challenge the status quo, to positively test one another and to manage conflict openly and constructively rather than leaving it unaddressed.

Moving forward it will be increasingly important to measure, monitor and develop resilience to prepare teams for inevitable future crises, big and small.

What we can deduce from mining our data then is that resilience is a necessary behaviour and is likely to become even more important as a result of the COVID-19 lockdown. We all, agency and client-side alike, need to understand how to be more resilient. Here’s how we can do it.

Image © erhui1979 / Getty Images

Guest Author

Kim Walker, Aprais

Founder & Chairman,


Kim Walker is Founder and Chairman of Aprais, the world’s leading relationship management company that uses data-driven evaluations to drive better, more productive partnerships for global marketers and communications agencies. Before establishing Aprais in 2000, Kim spent 30 years in the advertising industry and held senior management positions in Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and Tokyo. At the age of 27 he was appointed Managing Director of Ted Bates in Hong Kong, overseeing a staff of 180. He has since held leadership positions with global agency networks across Asia Pacific region including Chief Operating Officer for Carat Asia Pacific, President Isobar APAC and Regional President and CEO for M&C Saatchi. Kim’s first entrepreneurial venture, award-winning strategic planning consultancy SPI, was acquired by Aegis PLC. Along with team performance evaluations, Kim is also a global thought-leader on the ageing demographic and co-authored the book Marketing to the Ageing Consumer through Palgrave MacMillan in 2013.