Time to change: How WMG came through the first wave of COVID-19 even stronger

7 Sep 2020 in Interviews


The impact of COVID-19 on many industries was profound. Almost overnight, many revenue streams were closed off. With no timetable to normality forthcoming, the road back was not clear either. The knock-on effect for agencies serving these industries was considerable.

As the Head of PPC at the digital marketing agency WMG and one of PPC Hero’s Top 50 Most Influential PPC Experts of 2020, Tom Walkden and his colleagues needed to think fast to counteract this sudden challenge. With some rapid shifting of services and focus, they became one of the true success stories of 2020. We caught up with him to find out how they did it...

What was the situation pre-COVID and what were the immediate changes when it hit?

Generally, we’re quite an industry agnostic agency, but travel and physical retail represented about 40% of our client base. Once the reality of COVID-19 hit there was quite a sudden drop in their advertising spend.

Pretty much all of them put the brakes on as soon as restrictions came in. But after the first few weeks, through conversations and insight on our side (Google Trend Analysis, MarketPlace Analysis) we saw trends and opportunities to build their online presence.

When did you start looking to pivot?

When the aforementioned caution took place, we knew it was likely to hit our bottom line. In the immediate term, we were flexible with our terms to keep key relationships in place, but knew that we needed to rethink our strategy to thrive longer term.

Knowing that you needed to do something, what inspired you to go down the path you did?

One jewelry client did the bulk of their business through stores. With this revenue stream closed, we helped them adapt their tactics and budget to boost the traffic share of their website, which was a profitable operation with enormous room for growth.

This wasn’t a desperate shot in the dark. Our clients benefit from microsites with key insights on their business and the market. It helps them understand where opportunities are, and how to make the most of them. This consultative approach, we realised, could help us unlock huge value for other brands.

How did you decide on a new audience to engage with?

We looked at our client base and beyond to find new industries that would benefit from this data-driven approach. Outside of our client base, we identified financial services brands as having serious potential for outstanding results if they adapt their offering and tactics. We made a clear offering of what we would bring, specifically focusing on thriving through the current period and what the future could look like if they acted now.

What sort of results have you had with your new and existing clients, and what was key?

Our financial clients have experienced some of the best months they have ever had. Meanwhile, we are seeing a lot of clients who had initially paused, but due to their strategic activity during lockdown they are now looking like they are going to recover losses quickly due to high demand.

Again, this wasn’t an accident. We worked with them to give reassurance to their audience, we interacted with the people who missed our clients, we used remarketing, and generally conducted activities that kept relationships warm for when the doors opened again. The clients who took that approach are seeing the benefits now.

For example, one hair salon client had over 3,000 people on their waiting list for an appointment, who all suddenly wanted a haircut as soon as restrictions allowed. As I said, businesses keeping customer loyalty was a huge focus of our work while doors were closed.

What effect did this change of strategy have on the agency as a whole?

Our new work meant we could maintain all of our staff. But now that almost all of our clients have unpaused their advertising, we find ourselves in the interesting predicament of having to do more work with the same resource. It’s a good pressure to have, and our team has managed fantastically, but we are now actively recruiting again.

How do you think the pandemic has changed digital marketing channels for the new industries you are working with?

The pandemic has forced a lot of people’s hands who were averse to growing and investing in their digital channels. “My customer’s aren’t online,” we would hear. Well, now they are.

Lately we’ve been able to open eyes in industries that were previously averse to being online, legal for example. Our clients are growing through digital activity, asking new questions, and amazed at the search volume they could achieve. All it takes is someone like us to help join the dots for them. Cogs start to whirr and they see the connection.

It’s never too late to get clarity on your conversations

As customer journeys and behaviours change, it’s imperative that you know what’s driving business as our evolved normal emerges. Call tracking highlights what’s leading to your most valuable conversations, download our free guide on call tracking for marketers if you’d like to find out how to unlock this insight and what you can do with it.

If you’d like to read more from our award-winning In Conversation With… series, please click here.

Head of Content

Andy Vale
Head of Content

Andy has spent years obsessively analysing B2B and B2C digital marketing campaigns and technology. Outside his family, his main loves are Woking FC, his Xbox, and his National Trust membership.

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