On March 22, 2020, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order that directed all non-essential businesses in New York to close in-office personnel functions. Gatherings of all sizes were banned as well. The Ashworth staff quickly pivoted to remote work, with meetings and communication conducted on the phone or over Zoom.
While the need to adapt to COVID-19 restrictions was stressful and entailed some initial trial and error, it taught us a valuable lesson—there’s no such thing as a local agency. We’ve been back in the office since mid-September, and while operating virtually was restrictive in some ways, it reshaped the way we think about the limitations of geography. Namely, there are no limitations.
The top characteristics that enabled us to adapt to a remote-only work environment were flexibility, a focus on SEO-driven content, and industry-specific expertise. All three can be leveraged to help businesses at a regional, national, and global level. Here’s how:
1. Flexibility with messaging, creative, and channel = agility
Like many other agencies, flexibility has been an essential survival skill for Ashworth Creative and our clients in 2020. In a recent survey by Uplers of 130 agencies, 35% of respondents recommended that their clients pivot to new marketing messages in response to consumer sentiment, but also to cash in on decreased competition. A third of respondents recommended their clients increase their digital marketing spend, while 24% recommended switching to entirely new channels.
Our local and regional clients also had to be flexible and digitally proactive in ways they haven’t been before. With our help, they’ve tweaked their messaging, updated their websites, and retooled their product and service offerings.
For example, when in-person gatherings aren’t an option, then social platforms combined with video presentations or live streaming events become a good substitute. To address this new challenge at Ashworth, we now work with clients to transform formerly offline conferences, festivals, retreats and other events into virtual ones.
We created our own large-scale virtual event, Knit + Escape, after the in-person event had to be canceled in early February 2020. Knit + Escape was originally meant to be an in-person event developed in partnership with knitting influencer Kristy Glass. We pivoted, creating an entirely virtual event that featured vendors, charity events, trivia giveaways, demonstrations, and virtual lessons on knitting.The event was a resounding success with over 600 registrants in 78 sessions and roughly 60-160 per demo.
We’ve worked with clients to create podcasts, livestream events, and schedule webinars to help them connect with their customers, patients, and clients. We’ve used this same approach to stay connected with our own clients, ensuring that websites and marketing collateral continue to be produced despite restrictions on in-person meetings.
2. SEO is the foundation for everything
SEO is a tried-and-true tactic for driving website traffic even in the best of years, but 2020 has truly proven its worth, particularly as consumers turn to the web to find products and services more than they ever have before. In July, 81% of internet users between 16 and 64 searched online for a product or service and 90% visited an online retail site or store.
Travel restrictions, reduced marketing budgets, and the need to reach your local customer base (but also beyond it) are a few reasons why SEO is more critical now than ever. Clearly communicating vital information about your business, products, and services means that customers and prospects will know what to expect. Keep in mind that search behavior is rapidly shifting based on current needs and external factors, like lockdowns, protests, and store closings, so your content should be as timely as possible. Searches for the terms “open now” and “near me” have increased since the start of the pandemic; incorporating these terms into your website and social media content is important.
Evergreen content—that is, content that endures—is also important. Businesses can communicate their expertise by writing about it in depth; this is the kind of content that ranks well on search engines. Four years ago we created an interactive, educational addition to our client Harney & Sons Fine Teas website. It informs site visitors about the different kinds of tea and provides recommendations that link through to product pages:
Interactive Tea Guide from Harney & Sons
The foundation of a good SEO strategy is having an SEO-friendly website that thoughtfully targets the right keywords, contains high quality and updated content, is tagged appropriately, and is cross-platform friendly. This is true whether you’re a national retail chain that serves tens of thousands, or a local mom and pop store with a customer base of hundreds.
3. Industry expertise is a must
Digital transformation, SEO-friendly websites, and creative, personalized content have helped many companies weather this unprecedented year. But it can be difficult to stay agile when things change so rapidly, or you’re understaffed (or both). This is where the local-global agency model truly shines.
Our agency, like most, has expertise with specific market sectors within a range of services—from offline brochure creation and out-of-home media placement to SEO-friendly website design and paid search management. We provide different services depending on shifting client needs, and sometimes act as an external arm to our clients when they don’t have the internal staff to support a given initiative or project.
When you’re in a specific market, working with an agency that has experience in your sector (e.g., healthcare, retail, manufacturing, etc.) ensures that you remain relevant and present for your customers. Agencies can do this by being partners more than vendors—acting as an extension of your existing staff. This is where geography truly begins to blur.
The ultimate local-global agency
After nearly a year of learning how to be effective within a virtual work environment, Ashworth Creative is the ultimate local-global agency. The work we do for a manufacturing client in Albany or a healthcare client in Poughkeepsie can be interpreted and reimagined for a different client in the UK and beyond.
Recently, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top infectious disease specialist in the US, estimated we’ll reach herd immunity with the vaccine by summer’s end and begin approaching normalcy by the end of next year.
The recent surge in cases throughout the world, but particularly in the U.S. points to another imminent shutdown for businesses. But now we know that the pivot to remote work doesn’t mean your marketing machine must grind to a halt. The local-global agency can work from anywhere and with anyone. By sharing our expertise, being flexible, and remaining creative, we can help our clients (and ourselves) combat the impact of rapid change now and in the future.