Tumi Rabanye, AdFocus jury chair, Tshegofatso Mnguni from Triple Eight, Jeremy Maggs, Adfocus editor. Picture: Paul Elliot
Tumi Rabanye, AdFocus jury chair, Tshegofatso Mnguni from Triple Eight, Jeremy Maggs, Adfocus editor. Picture: Paul Elliot

This was the first year the Adaptability Award was handed out; it was introduced to recognise the extent to which agencies adapted to navigate the challenging Covid crisis and acknowledge those agencies that rose above the panic and disruption of an unusual year by successfully adapting to this new paradigm.

Covid-19 has presented the ultimate proof point that we live in volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous times. The crisis has presented an opportunity for the true mettle of the agency-client partnership to be demonstrated by delivering work that is responsive to the moment and purposeful. For this award the judges were looking for demonstrable agency-client collaboration that positively shifted the conversation. It took into consideration how the agency has adjusted to the new reality, its responsiveness to the lockdown levels and how staff have been empowered to forge ahead despite the challenges. The spirit of this category is as much about responding to the new reality as it is about the courage of industry players to co-create the future.

What was particularly interesting to see was what different agencies defined as adaptability. Some rated their IT systems, which allowed people to work remotely, others talked about their immediate response to the lockdown, and others described the support they provided to their people.

There were three finalists in this category: FCB Joburg, HaveYouHeard and Triple Eight. Even before the lockdown, FCB Joburg had implemented a Covid-19 policy. An evacuation drill conducted on March 23 revealed that 94% work continuity and connectivity was realistic in just 90 minutes. As a result of reduced client budgets and in order to prevent job losses, all senior managers and executives voluntarily elected for a 10%-15% salary reduction. Free counselling was provided to all staff and a number of motivational initiatives were introduced. The agency proved its agility by successfully launching campaigns from brief to execution in as little as two weeks, and conducted a significant amount of pro bono work for NGOs between April and mid-August.

Triple Eight was a clear winner in this category. In its favour was the fact that it had all the right building blocks in place even before the pandemic, and a level of preparation which allowed it to be very adaptive even though its activations business came to a complete standstill during the lockdown.

HaveYouHeard sent its staff home to begin remote working two weeks before the lockdown was announced in SA. The business impact of the lockdown was brutal and the agency lost 50% of its revenue overnight. However, proving its mettle and resilience, in the midst of a global recession it has been hunting for new business and successfully clawed back 70% of lost revenue, all the while retaining its full headcount.

Triple Eight, however, was a clear winner in this category. In its favour was the fact that it had all the right building blocks in place even before the pandemic, and a level of preparation which allowed it to be very adaptive even though its activations business came to a complete standstill during the lockdown. Pivoting the business in the way it did to focus on innovation and impact resulted in a substantial increase in revenue.

Though the initial idea was that the Adaptability Award would be a unique once-off, the judges agreed that this is a category worth keeping in 2021 as it emphasises the consistent adaptability required to navigate this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment.

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