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August 30, 2022 // Jonathan Heit  //       //  Opinion

Three Principles to Guide Leaders During Tough Times (Including a Recession)

After a significant boom time in our business and many others, the economy faces a renewed assault as we see signs of recession in any market. Cofounder and Global COO Jonathan Heit shares three key principles that have served Allison+Partners well throughout its history. 

When Allison+Partners first faced the economic uncertainty brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Scott Allison pulled the global board together (virtually) to map out next steps. Having been through numerous downturns dating back to our September 2001 launch, we recognized immediately what we needed to do. With agencies around the world immediately reducing staff, we didn’t panic our pause. Instead, we reviewed our options. Layoffs were not discussed. 

We looked at ways to limit expenditures to keep our staff at full pay. And within days, our teams began to innovate and bring to market several new initiatives to help our clients through this challenging time. We weathered the uncertainty without a single layoff, and our revenue stayed consistent where other businesses had faltered.  

Now, as we brace for more uncertainty amid rumblings of a recession, I’m cognizant of the key principles that have guided us through tough times, and we’ll continue to rely heavily on them as we do through tough times we’ve experienced before.  

First, an unrelenting focus on people 

Our philosophy has always been that if you focus on your people, revenue will follow – and in a service industry such as ours, team is everything.  

Recognizing what motivates your employees, and what they most want from their employer, should guide your decision making at every juncture – especially during uncertain times. 

Every year, our agency conducts an Employee Experience Survey to understand what is top of mind among our workforce. The annual benchmark has informed the introduction of new perks, such as unlimited PTO and Summer Fridays. But more than that, it has provided insight into how supported our employees feel and how likely they are to remain with our agency. It has given us insight into how we should evolve leadership development and career pathing to provide the most support and opportunity to our team. 

During the pandemic, we conducted more frequent pulse surveys to understand what employees, all of whom were dealing with circumstances never imagined in the workplace, were feeling and how we could best help them. Maintaining these constant touchpoints with employees throughout the year – and more frequently during difficult times – ensures you are never caught off guard by what employees may experience and ultimately helps build mutual respect between leadership and the broader agency. 

Lean into efficiency and automation 

Any period of economic uncertainty elicits a reaction to eliminate excess and effectively “do more with less.” However, this shouldn’t mean heaping more work on top of an already beleaguered workforce. This is where technology can help. 

Investing in tech tools can streamline manual processes and benefit our business during challenging times. 

Our PI (performance+intelligence) team of data analysts employs a customized suite of technology tools to automate research and measurement needs and analyze results with AI. This method contributes to a much more refined data set than is often possible through manual research – plus it saves our team countless hours, allowing them to focus on more strategic work for clients.  

At the same time, we regularly audit which tech tools are used throughout the agency and which are not. This helps inform where we can eliminate unnecessary spending and keeps our tech stack focused on the greatest needs. 

Evolve offerings to address today’s most pressing client needs 

Rising inflation threatens profit margins and can encourage businesses to lower prices in a misguided effort to preserve market share. Despite the temptation to “take a haircut” during difficult times, savvy businesses must instead show the value of their services and evolve offerings to protect profit margins. 

During the pandemic, when large in-person gatherings were cancelled left and right, we recognized a need to adapt our event offerings for the virtual world. We rolled out a suite of digital offerings to help clients find new ways to engage audiences and media interest in the absence of physical gatherings. 

Challenging times often provide an opportunity to innovate and stretch creative thinking. If you adopt a problem solver’s approach to business and a growth mindset, you can keep momentum steady without having to resort to worst-case options.  

As we keep an eye on economic headwinds, we know there’s no predicting what the next few months – or years – might bring. However, by focusing our agency on our people, processes and services, we can approach the future with enough trust and confidence to weather whatever storms may come our way. 


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