We talked to Steve Lodge of Oxygen Agency, a full-service marketing communications agency, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Steve Lodge: It has been an unusual time. As a family, we have enjoyed it in some ways, with much more contact with our children and avoiding the stresses of the school run! But it has also been hard at times to deal with the isolation and lack of contact with family and friends. Our five-year-old has had almost a 1/5th of her life in lockdown, which is a crazy concept.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Oxygen Agency.
Steve Lodge: I started Oxygen in 2002 after a successful career as a copywriter in the advertising industry and as a journalist. As a copywriter, I got involved in all aspects of marketing campaigns and account management. Copywriters tend to think around the campaign and are at the sharp end when it comes to understanding the audience and engaging them. I started the business doing copywriting, but very quickly, we started handling full brand marketing campaigns, and it was a natural step to become a full-service marketing communications agency.
How does Oxygen Agency innovate?
Steve Lodge: Copywriting has been a point of difference for us. Many agencies are built of account managers and designers. We focus on the words first and then build the visual concepts around them. Our clients like this approach because we quickly learn who their stakeholders are and what we can say that will drive the right response. Similarly, we’ve never had account managers. We are all doers. Our clients pick up the phone – or video calls these days – and speak with a copywriter, a graphic designer, a web developer, a PR consultant – and they get a knowledgeable response. Account management can often dilute the response.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Steve Lodge: We’re all working from home and have used our communication tools to stay engaged and share information about projects. It’s working well. The last time we saw this type of crisis was in 2008, and rather than battening the hatches, we went out and got two ISO certifications. It enabled us to demonstrate that we have great processes so that nervous or cash-strapped clients better knew we could do a good job for them. This is benefitting us during the current crisis. We have solid processes, procedures, and quality outcomes that allow us to manage how we work and keep delivering a quality product. The ISOs are SO 9001 quality and ISO 27001 information security. The latter has been particularly useful, and much of our work has switched from print and events to digital campaigns.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Steve Lodge: In 2008, I paid staff on my credit card because we lost 60% of our clients due to the financial crisis. Even in this crisis, we’re 50% down because marketing is either an expense clients feel they can forego, or if the business has had to close, then it is simply not required. That means we’ve made a tough decision and have had to let a couple of staff go. Things will recover, and those businesses that have closed will – we hope – be able to trade again.
What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?
Steve Lodge: Our communication tools are vital. We have a slick VOIP system and can jump on video calls quickly and maintain a dialogue with colleagues and staff easily. Virtual tools like this are vital.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Steve Lodge: We have a broad mix of clients from blue chips to local businesses. This means our competition is global – any agency, any freelancer, anywhere. The key is being able to demonstrate that we provide a good service. It helps to have such a broad client portfolio that’s neither limited to size or sector. We can work with anyone, and that will help us stay in the game.
Your final thoughts?
Steve Lodge: I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it yet, and this Spring will see a vast number of insolvencies when the buffer the Government has created just isn’t enough to keep businesses in the black. The efficient businesses will survive, and we’ll see a massive correction in the marketplace where the businesses that haven’t been run well with close. Sadly some great businesses will be victims too, due to their sector or specialism.