Growing through Covid: what 2020 taught me as an agency owner
By Vaughn Davis, Creative Director and Owner – The Goat Farm Ltd
It’s been a year or so, Facebook Memories tells me, since we stopped going out for a beer, became obsessed with making our own bread and started pinning posters of Doctors Ashley Bloomfield and Siouxsie Wiles over the pop stars and All Blacks that previously papered our bedroom walls.
What Facebook Memories doesn’t record in so much detail is the collective “oh fuck,” from thousands of business owners across the country – including agency owners.
Suddenly, the workplaces at the centre of what we did were closed us. Those expensive desks, carefully chosen artworks and oh God will someone please think of the foosball table were locked down, off limits and dark.
At The Goat Farm, the last five or so years when we’ve had our own office have been fantastic. It’s a home, a clubhouse, a lounge. Sometimes it’s a place to do work.
What would happen when Covid closed the clubhouse?
Spoiler: we made it through. We added clients and staff. We did work that helped our clients sell stuff and keep their own staff employed.
Looking back I think there were two reasons that happened.
The first one was happening before the virus reared its head, or whatever passes for one when you’re a virus.
Small advertising and design agencies are on the rise. Networks, not so much.
The days of having a big building filled with hundreds of staff are at an end. The same goes for a reception desk the width of a tennis court.
Someone has to pay for all that real estate, and it’s clients. Over the last decade or so, more of them have woken up to that and realised that their advertising budgets could be better spent on ideas, not office leases.
It’s the same with staff. I imagine there was a time when a client felt important when half a dozen agency people turned up to a meeting. Today, they just sit there thinking about those half a dozen salaries and why they’re helping pay for them.
When Covid arrived, small agencies were already on fire. Clients were already OK with dealing with companies with small offices – or no offices at all. Some big campaigns were being rolled out by loose coalitions of creative and production people getting together around kitchen tables, doing the mahi, then getting on with their lives.
Which leads to the second reason we made it. We were built to work this way.
TGF is ten years old this year (hold the applause – we had to postpone the party because of you know what). If we were 20, our startup technology stack would have looked very different. Setting up a business would have meant buying a server and a handful of expensive desktop Macs. To collaborate at all, we would have needed to be on the same network, which basically meant in the same room.
In 2011, we didn’t need any of that. Our own laptops could do pretty much anything we needed. File storage and access were free or next to free, via this fancy new Cloud thing. And fibre to the door (ironically, one of the last campaigns I worked on in big agency land) made our couches as well connected as any office desk.
Eventually, we grew to the point where having an office felt like the right thing to do. We’ve had two spaces on Karangahape Road now, and love being part of this fantastic community.
But when we heard we’d have to work from home for the forseeable future, it was no big deal. BYOD and Cloud are in our DNA. Our couches and kitchen tables, connected by Teams and Zoom, became our workplaces again. We made website, wine labels and TV and radio ads. Then we walked our dogs, made some bread and did it again.
Of course, no agency does it alone. And we were lucky that the media agencies, digital and video production agencies, voice studios and more that we work with are all small, and all wired (or wireless) for remote collaboration. Their couches connected to our couches, and it worked.
So much for the supply side. Technology meant that we were well placed to create work from home as easily as if we were in the office. But what about the demand?
For me, the fact that businesses chose to spend money with us in 2020 reminded us why advertising and design exist. They’re not a luxury. They help fuel the economy. They keep exports flowing, factories busy, shops open, people employed and families fed.
And when times look tough, smart businesses invest in them.
As my colleagues get sick of hearing me say: this isn’t art; it’s commerce. 2020 proved it.
P.S. I also wrote a book when I was at home on the couch. It’s called Covid Schmovid and you can buy a copy here.