Working in sales and marketing for digital agencies, and being a master of my own destiny

Monday 30th March, and my third week working from home during COVID-19. I'd just had a shower, wearing a towel, almost ready to start the day at my make shift desk. I received a text from my manager at 08:55 asking if I was free for a chat.

My shoulders dropped, and paranoia set in, I'd just been paid for March, business was slow, and a call at that time was unusual. Also, a shocking number of friends and colleagues in similar sales or marketing roles had already being made redundant, furloughed, or decided to leave their job (yeah right)!

With all my best efforts, part of me knew my time was up, because my job was to advise a small agency on how to market themselves, and develop new business. But I was new to the business, senior, I wasn't charged out by the hour, and there was a new kid on the block called COVID-19.

My phone rang and I calmly answered knowing the inevitable was going to happen, and it did. It was politely communicated that it didn't look like I was going to hit my numbers. 

A week into COVID-19 hitting, it didn't take long to realise that a direct sales approach to new business made me feel uncomfortable, and wasn't the right thing to do. Instead I was hearing that people and businesses needed help.

Even during those awkward video conferencing calls, whilst working hard to develop and communicate new ideas and strategies, I was being asked how many new opportunities I'd generated that week. I said, 'businesses didn't want to be sold to, they need help and guidance'.

First articleI knew that wasn't what they wanted to hear, but that was my reality, as certainly during that time, I was unable to add much value, let alone hit a sales or exceed a sales target. It felt like I was losing my mojo, I was uncomfortable emailing companies, and offering help, in most cases to businesses that didn't know me or the company I represented.

As a former creative agency owner, employer and consultant for more agencies than I can remember, I've always been acutely aware that there is a bottom line. I also understand that tough decisions sometimes have to be made as a business owner, I get it! However there are often high expectations for quick results, and even if agencies say they are consultative, it can be fine for them, but just not for you (there has been exceptions). 

Even for a seasoned, senior professional it can be challenging  in normal times, to develop new business systematically and reliably unless you have an attractive proposition to entice past contacts and new prospects within a few months. 

Part of me was relieved that I no longer had to be seen to 'Like' or comment on every LinkedIn post, or force out an ill-considered article, just to remain visible. It's shocking how many non COVID-19 related posts were bombing on LinkedIn and beyond during this time.

With a potentially gloomy outlook for the global job market and economy in 2020, it would have been all too easy to go into safety mode, curl up in a ball and trawl LinkedIn for jobs that didn’t exist. But on reflection, I knew that my successes were driven by believing in my team, and what I was pitching to provide clients and prospects with insight, great service, creative output and value. Testament to that was co-founding a creative agency in 2008 at the start of the recession, delivering impressive digital campaigns for household brands.

Unless you’ve worked at the same agency for a long time, with a unique proposition, solid case studies, and a good shop window, agency new business can be high risk, and constantly keeps you in the managerial light. However, much like being in a bad relationship, making do with what you have, not believing in what you sell, or being master of your own destiny isn't enough. 

I realised for some time, that I was at my happiest whilst working for myself, so rather than spruce up the CV, I've been busy re-branding and launching a former creative agency I co-founded, alongside some old, talented, and trusted friends.

I know it's not going to be easy, or the challenges I will face. But I'll never forget that bizarre moment I was made redundant wearing a towel, the challenges that COVID-19 presented me, and the changes I've made to once again love what I do, and be master of my own destiny.

I also give a nod to some of the inspiring words from Gary Vaynerchuk, Peter Levitan, Melanie Phillips, Paul Rainbow and Spencer Gallagher & Peter Hoole's book; 'Agencymonics'.

Paul Stancheris is well versed in client development, management, campaign strategy, and agency operations. He has over 20 years' experience, working within creative digital advertising, marketing,  family attractions and technology businesses focusing predominantly, but not exclusively across the children’s media and family entertainment markets.

Paul Stancheris