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Written by Michelle Edwards | USA
on February 01, 2021

Business headlines in 2020 weren’t pretty. Few were spared, this was particularly true if you happened to be in the agency business. 

“2020 was the most crushing year for the ad industry since the recession of 2008. In human terms it was worse, with nearly 50,000 ad agency jobs lost globally…”

It definitely left people and businesses feeling as if suddenly everything was well outside of their circle of control.

Businesses were shuttered around most of the world. The lucky, who could, started a new way of life. Working from home. A global survey conducted by Gartner Inc., indicates that “88% of the organizations, worldwide, made it mandatory or encouraged their employees to work from home after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic.”

However one agency, namely UP THERE, EVERYWHERE, never had to make this sudden shift to move to the cloud. You could say that as the first global cloud-based agency, UP was an early adopter of remote work. In fact 2021 is UP’s tenth year in business, and working from the cloud is the name of UP’s game.

What has UP learned in those ten years, and how did UP do in 2020, when many clients were suddenly forced into the cloud along with them? Did the eggs in UP’s basket end up cracked, scrambled, or sunny side UP? 

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Thoughts  from some of UP's Leadership Team

We went UP in the cloud with UP’s COO - Lawrence Masle,  UP’s CFO - Lars Henrikkson, and finally UP’s CEO and co-founder - Julian Stubbs to find out how the agency did. And what these three cloud based experts say about Surviving COVID as a business.

Lawrence Masle - COO of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE

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UP is 10 years old this year and has been operating in the cloud since its inception. Do you feel that UP is still ahead of the curve, even now that COVID has accelerated the shift in how businesses operate and in fact survive?

I do. Our people have been working remotely for years, so nothing changed for us, except that we couldn’t have live meetings with our clients (yes, we actually do meet with our clients face to face sometimes!). And while we were already sometimes meeting with our clients via Zoom before the pandemic, now we were meeting them all of the time virtually. Looking forward to having a live coffee with them again soon! 

Workshops are an important part of a client engagement. Due to the pandemic, we had to move these usually live sessions also into the cloud. And you know what? That also works! As an example I know that just last week Julian, our CEO, ran a workshop presentation for twenty marketing executives from a Chinese company looking to move into Europe. They were based over 7,000 kilometres away in China, and it worked perfectly. 

I think because our people are so comfortable working in the cloud, that it gives us a competitive advantage. Business continued as usual for us, despite the lockdowns.

How was UP able to guide and assist other companies when COVID struck? Did it help that UP has its headquarters and largest hub in Stockholm – a country that largely continued with business as usual?

In the beginning, you did hear questions from some of our clients asking for advice on how to best work remotely. However, I would also say that many of our clients are global, so they are already used to working with colleagues half way around the world - connected through technology. So for many, they started working more remotely with their local colleagues and customers, as well as those far away.

I do think it helped that Sweden remained open. But don’t think they didn’t take the pandemic seriously, they did, and still do. They have clear guidelines and recommendations to minimize risk, while still being able to live and work. We were fortunate that we could still go into the studio and shoot films and produce webinars.

As the COO of UP, what did COVID teach you about operating a global business? What worked well and what didn’t work as well?

In actuality, very little changed for us. We’ve always worked hard to keep our overhead low, so there was very little that we had to cut back on to keep our costs down. I do think that our members miss going into our Creative Hubs around the world to meet up in person. And we’d love to have another Global Meet UP like we did a few years ago. These are the things that we are looking forward to as we get back to a normal way of life.

You are based in the Netherlands, where restaurants and shops have been closed since fall, and schools since December. Recently there has been some unrest – largely due to COVID curfews. Do you think that when COVID is controlled that there will be an overwhelming desire to go back to things as they were pre-COVID, thus disrupting UP’s model and success?

The Netherlands, like much of Europe has had a focus on shutting things down to control the pandemic. The recent unrest is using the curfew as an excuse to riot and cause damage.

Companies will always be looking for better value, and that’s what the UP model provides, so the pandemic is really irrelevant. However, I do think that companies will be more open to working with an agency like UP that is working remotely through the cloud. So if anything, I expect UP to be even stronger coming out of the pandemic.

What was your biggest “AHA” moment during the past year?

I was a bit surprised by how well workshops can be run remotely via Zoom. While I’m still a fan of running them live, it’s great to know that a virtual alternative works so well.

What are your tips for businesses, that you believe will help them survive…and even thrive in the new normal?

Judge your people by their value and performance….not by their face time in the office. You can work from home or remotely just as well as in the office, and sometimes better. If you give people the freedom to combine work and life more, you will get much better value out of the result.

I think it’s clear, we won’t be going back to daily rush hour traffic jams and 5 days a week in the office.

Lars Henriksson - CFO of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE

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You are UP’s CFO, how were the numbers for UP since the onset of COVID?

You could argue that UP hasn’t been financially hit, a +30% growth speaks for itself during a pandemic when the industry in general has been hit hard.

As UP is a cloud-based company, and little money was required to make the shift to digital during the crisis, where has UP focused their money during this time?

Of course we initially didn’t know how the UP Group was going to be affected and took a stance of caution on costs and investments. Still we have been able to invest in enhancing processes and skillsets for continued growth in a financially scalable way.

Did UP require any “financial increases” in specific areas to assist clients in their COVID business plan shifts? If so, do you think these expenditures will pay off even after COVID comes under control?

Not really, we already had the offerings and skillsets to meet the changed client behaviors and requirements. Also the previous strategic acquisition of DPC was well timed with regards to the clients refocusing on e-commerce.

What was your biggest “AHA” moment during the past year?

Business wise I got a few. One being the psychology of a nation when Boris closed the pubs in UK. The other one was when so many people and businesses were suffering, it was evident that the UP structure and model is ahead of the game.

What are your tips for businesses that you believe will help them survive…and even thrive in the new normal?

Adopt to virtual business models and beware of high cost structures.

Julian Stubbs - CEO of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE

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As CEO of UP THERE, EVERYWHERE, how do you feel UP has done as a business since the advent of COVID?

We all knew our model was built for times like these - where people can work remotely and work can continue without interruption. Still, in early March, we had no idea how the pandemic would impact the business. So we set up a short, 30 minute, COVID-call every Monday morning of some of the senior UP Leadership Team. 

We’d look at a snapshot of the business over the last week, cash flow, current projects and new business flow that was coming in. After the first couple of months we realized the business was in incredibly good shape -and in spite of COVID - it continued to grow.

We put this down largely to 4 things:

  1. Our unique business model
  2. Our strong digital position and skill sets
  3. Our focus on clients in Life Science, medical device and Pharma
  4. And last, but certainly not least, we operate globally

Did you bring on any new clients during this time?

Yes, we had significant new business wins throughout the year including growth from existing clients who needed help moving quickly into new ways of working - such as webinars - as well as across new geographies. Business grew by around 35% over the full year.

How did you continue to get the word out about UP in the past year?

We have always invested in our own content and social media marketing and publishing. We continued with this. We also started running more webinars, which, with the current business conditions are a great way to communicate.

As well, we ran multiple virtual training sessions internally and held our first virtual writer’s retreat. These were open to members, as well as our clients. These went a long way to strengthen our brand. We are now planning a new series of these for 2021. 

Speaking branding, how did UP’s place branding fare? Do you think place branding continues to be relevant, even with a shift to a largely digital, video driven atmosphere?

It's definitely been an area that's been impacted but we did work on a number of place branding assignments over the year. I think that places and destinations are currently assessing the impact of COVID and what they do next, after - hopefully - the pandemic is over. We ran a very good webinar on the topic in November and we are now planning the second of these in association with the great city of Liverpool, in the UK. 

What was your biggest “AHA” moment during the past year?

No one really knew what was going to happen… but for us, after about 6 weeks, we realized we may not be impacted as much as other businesses in our area. Our model is so strong. 

COVID has made us even stronger and we realise the digital and e-commerce work that we do, our many webinars, and our other potential offerings give us a great base. 

Tips for surviving COVID as a business

What are your tips for businesses, that you believe will help them survive…and even thrive in the new normal?

  1. Digital is key: whether that is the product you sell, the markets you are in or how you work.
  2. Embrace the benefits of remote working. Have people work in distributed teams. And don’t forget to take care of those teams. People are the critical factor. Relationships are key.
  3. Think and act globally. It spreads your risk when you operate in multiple geographic locations.
  4. Focus on your key customers and get close to them and do whatever it takes to help them solidify their own business and get through it together. Again, building relationships is key.
  5.  Keep calm and carry on - but have a cup of tea first (remember - I am British).

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As we conclude, we reflect on the knowledge that not all businesses and not all agencies will survive COVID. This is an unfortunate known. The unknown is what your business will do. A recent survey indicated that only 50% of managers believe their companies are ready to continue to work from home. The same survey also shows there are well-being issues associated with such work, that management should not ignore. How will the eggs in your basket turn out? We believe they will be sunny side UP!

“Companies that invest more in digital transformation actually outperform their peers over time. These companies are more prepared for disruption, better able to monetize new digital channels, and better able to build a bigger user base. What’s more, this phenomenon exists regardless of industry.”
— Geoff Cubitt, CEO, Isobar US

UP THERE, EVERYWHERE has been operating in the cloud for over 10 years, and has been successful at it, learning what it takes to make it work along the way. Want to learn more from the experts?

Learn more about the UP Model: e-ployment

 

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Related articles:

UP ten year anniversary and ten million euros in sales

Making remote working work: some practical collaboration tips

Working in the cloud: Five ways to maximize online collaboration

Coronavirus: Advice for working remotely

 

 

 

 

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