Sebastian Stepak, CEO of MSL CEE, on clients' expectations for fast decisions and a reliable partner that is capable to deliver on every field within days

Sebastian Stepak, CEO of MSL CEE, on clients' expectations for fast decisions and a reliable partner that is capable to deliver on every field within days

Network agencies are capable of faster delivering in a perfectly predictable way.

5 minutes read

How would you say companies in our region have been adapting to the new situation?Have you noticed any significant differences between markets and industries? Does any particular market or industry stand out in the way it's been handling the situation?

At first the shock was enormous. We were calling each other exchanging news on issues management, experiences, people’s reactions – imprisoned and terrified with media news coming from all over the world. After March and April 2020, we broke into the new normal instantly. The biggest threat was coming directly from clients. We were 100% dependent on their situation and when we saw that in majority of cases they managed to deal with issues or pivot, we were able to make plans and arrangements in new circumstances. Economy was the biggest question mark – like at the beginning of every crisis. It took one, hard month to get over it – but after 30 days we knew that there is light in the end of this dark tunnel. A real breakthrough was the first account we won on the beginning of April 2020 – e-commerce convenient store. We knew by then that it is a matter of time when we will be back on the right path.

Gaming industry was the biggest winner. Excellent timing, using the momentum, good communication & marketing approach without building on others misfortune. Gaming companies were the first ones to fully switch to online communication, with events, premieres and all the promotional activities. Having a great infrastructure, they were ready to deliver to anybody who was willing to buy and play. As an example – as soon as I’ve realized I won’t be racing in 2020 season, I switched to e-racing with my track team and we were able to heavily improve our skills not only through competition, but also by session with an online racing coach. It is amazing how online met offline back then.

Pretty much everywhere we were facing the same issues but the situation in each country was influenced by decisions of local governments and the level of threat in particular period. We knew nothing about fear, real danger, or actual difficulties in Poland when we compare it to what was happening in Italy.


What is the new about your agency/network and your colleagues that you found out during the pandemic?

Well, we were one of the coolest agencies on the market allowing our employees to homework for 3 days in a month. But this homeworking was a completely different animal. We were calling back our colleagues after one hour, proceeding with a completely different set of tasks – preparing documents, presentations or excel sheets – anything that needed peaceful and quiet conditions. In March 2020 we were running fully capable offices from home 10-12 hours a day. Suddenly everybody realized that direct contact means hours or days commuting and may be perceived now as a time wasted. No matter if it is a worldwide pitch for global account or an important press conference, we can perform on the highest level of quality without leaving our home. Laptop, phone, and a broadband internet connection is all we need to deliver extraordinary campaigns.


What do you think is a major challenge right now for agencies in the communications sector?

Our communication channels are going through major changes. Outdoor almost didn’t exists exactly like events, cinemas, or even traditional printed press. I really feel that our industry should start a wide discussion on what is our actual future due to this downturn as it will surely impact our profession. But first we will have to assess the scale of the impact and it is going to happen in the coming weeks and months.


What role do they play as their clients are adapting to the new situation? How do you think their clients see their role?

Clients already made a switch. They want experienced network agencies to run their business in a reliable and coherent way across the markets all over the globe. Network agencies are also capable of faster delivering in a perfectly predictable way. It’s not a time for experiments. With bigger international outreach and Data&Science on board we are also their eyes and ears in terms of running business, trends, and changes. Decision are being taken faster than ever before and everybody is looking for a partner that is capable to deliver on every field within days – not months, without extended briefings and chemistry meetings.


How will the agency of the future look like?

On one hand we should be more aware of our employee’s time. Now we know that two days trip to Australia just for one meeting isn’t the brightest idea from an economic standpoint. But we all are going to travel once again. Firstly – because we’ve got used to it. Secondly – because handshake is still a handshake. Reality is not online. If the same rules are going to apply for everyone – it is a fair deal. But as soon as our competitors are going to decide that a handshake gives them more chances for closing the account – they are going to go for it. And so will we.

At the same time, I believe that working at least two days in a week from home is here to stay. Everybody loves to sleep till 8:45 AM and be fully operational at their desks at 9 – at least for people without kids. The Pandemic made our consultants fully responsible for their tasks and activities, fees, and deliveries. Since March 2020 we had only one major client issue – usually we have at least one each month.

Our future will surely rely on our clients’ ways of working and needs – whatever they are going to choose will be included in our scope. ​ But surely agency of the future won’t be limited by geography or discipline. Being holistic is a main feature that clients will look for, spiced with trust and delivery excellence.


Digital transformation is an important milestone in the agenda of today’s companies. What are the first steps/ transformational changes that must be taken and will account for a successful move into the right direction?

Like in every process of change we need to keep our objectives in mind – perfectly clear description of our situation in 5 years’ time. During the pandemic digital transformation simply crossed the line between planning and execution. This process was forced by circumstances. Now we are in the beginning of this process – which is an endless path in terms of improvement. Every new need and every new process will have its beginning, middle and the end in digital. Traditional issues are not the starting point anymore. But let’s stick to reality – not touching too complicated processes. There is some work that needs to be done on very basic level as well.

Last year gave as an extra hour of consumer’s attention because the time they spend online during the day has heavily increased. It is for the companies like ours to create the right content and tools to use this time in the most efficient way to get to them with the right messaging.

We still need few things from technology which must be far smarter. Simple example: There are four people at the meeting – one is at home. The one outside of the room won’t be so engaged and vocal as the rest. It is a very simple issue, but still extremely important as one of the major problems to solve to be independent from geography. ​


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Reliable information, analysis and expert opinion regarding social attitudes, marketing, media and advertising trends that will be useful in taking important business decisions during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

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