Marketers are seeking facetime with their agencies again, but some ad execs are resistant to going back to crazy pre-pandemic travel schedules

  • Ad execs are starting to travel again as clients seek facetime with their agencies.
  • Agencies want to balance hybrid work with client expectations for in-person meetings.
  • Some said they’re prepared to push back if asked to resume hectic pre-pandemic travel schedules.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Ad agencies aren’t fully reopened, but they’re gradually resuming travel as more people get vaccinated and clients request in-person meetings, new business pitches, and on-site commercial productions.

A new study by advertising staffing company WorkReduce showed 55% of ad execs said they were traveling again for business. Meanwhile, only 13% said they were returning to the office full-time, 40% said they were returning sometimes, and 46% said they were still working from home.

WorkReduce CEO and Founder Brian Dolan said most agencies want to maintain a hybrid work model and are trying to balance client demands for more facetime without resuming weekly flights and daily in-person meetings that were common pre-pandemic.

“There’s this real tension right now of people wanting to see their clients and wanting to see their colleagues but wanting to maintain some of the benefits of remote work,” Dolan said. “Everyone is really hoping to return to something that is hybrid.”

Insider spoke to 13 agency execs who said clients haven’t required anyone to travel but are gradually seeking more in-person meetings. They said most meetings have been between senior executives and that agencies are not requiring employees to resume travel if they don’t feel comfortable.

But some execs said they are concerned travel requests could pick up again to pre-pandemic levels, threatening flexible work schedules people have gotten used to.

Some executives said they were pressured to travel before they felt ready. One holding company exec said they started traveling back in June 2020 because one client was back to working in person. The exec wasn’t ready to travel but said it’s generally understood in the industry that agencies must go to the clients.

Steven Seghers, CEO of Hooray Agency in Irvine, California, said he’s been traveling regularly since January because many clients are in hospitality, which has opened back up.

“We’re respectful of the needs of our clients,” Seghers said. “In Vegas, for example, we’re dealing with a large integrated resort that’s opening. They need to have their agency presence there to brainstorm, strategize, engage on an intimate level. I have yet to meet someone that believes

meetings or Google Meets are the ideal replacement for personal engagement.”

But some agency execs said they were prepared to push back on the weekly travel demands that were expected of them before the pandemic, when it was common to have five or more in-person meetings for a single pitch. They point out that much of production such as creating digital assets can be done remotely while broadcast ad shoots can be reserved for on-site production.

Some agencies are already drawing lines in the sand

LA-based Justin Moore-Lewy, a partner at ad agency HeLo, said he used to fly every week for clients but would challenge that going forward. He said the agency would only travel for new business when a deal is in the final or closing stages, not for every meet-and-greet with a prospective client.

Jordan Fox, head of Wasserman agency Laundry Service, said the company is handling travel requests on a case-by-case basis and allowing employees who are uncomfortable traveling to do meetings via video. He foresees this hybrid approach being part of most in-person meetings and pitches going forward.

Al Moseley, global chairman and chief creative officer of ad agency 180LA, said the agency became more aware in the pandemic of the carbon footprint and expenses tied to traveling and doesn’t want to go back to the “madness” of having everything done in-person again.

“I foresee that client meetings will change,” Moseley said. “We’ll have a quarterly workshop for our clients where we go in depth, talk about culture ahead and ambitions for the next three months. Then we’ll work remotely in a workshop environment, for the delivery aspect of it.”

Still, there’s concern that if some agencies return to pre-pandemic travel schedules, others will have to follow suit if they want to compete.

Chris Staley, founder of experience firm Horizontal Digital, said his agency has been flying for the past couple of months and that he expected travel to resemble pre-pandemic levels once the office reopens in the fall.

“The reason we started traveling again was for personal connection,” he said. “It’s very important and shows how committed we are.”

“In a [new business pitch], clients always say you don’t have to do this or that but as soon as somebody goes the extra mile and does it, suddenly everyone is evaluated on it,” MDC’s Media Kitchen CEO Barry Lowenthal said. “That is exactly what will happen with travel. Whoever shows up will get the extra point.”

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