Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
mobile-logo
Global Marketing
Management Consultants
Top

Managing Marketing: How Independent Agencies Win Corporate Clients

Susan_Werkner

Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by TrinityP3 Founder and Global CEO, Darren Woolley. Each podcast is a conversation with a thought-leader, professional or practitioner of marketing and communications on the issues, insights and opportunities in the marketing management category. Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media and commercial communications professionals.

Susan Werkner is the co-founder of The Agency Accelerators. She shares her experience working as a marketer in large corporations and large network agencies in the USA. How her experience reinforced her belief that smaller, independent suppliers could compete very successfully against their larger competitors. It was a strategy she proved worked when she started her own business. Today, Susan and her partner, Peter Applebaum are using this knowledge to help independent agencies grow. You can find out more here

You can listen to the podcast here:

Follow Managing Marketing on Soundcloud, Google Podcasts, TuneInStitcher, Spotify, Apple Podcast and Amazon Podcasts (the USA, UK, Germany & Japan only)

Transcription:

Darren:

Welcome to Managing Marketing, a weekly podcast where we discuss the issues and opportunities facing marketing, media, and advertising, with industry thought leaders and practitioners.

Today, I’m sitting down with Susan Werkner, co-founder of The Agency Accelerators. Welcome, Susan.

Susan:

Oh, hello, Darren. Thanks for having me.

Darren:

Well, look, it’s terrific to actually finally get to sit down. We’ve come through the COVID period. We’ve been in some ways, collaborating now for, is it six months or more?

Susan:

I think so. I think it was since, well, basically since March, I think, isn’t it? It could be longer — March or April, something like that, yes.

Darren:

And I’ve been looking forward to sitting down and having this conversation. It’s been difficult because of distancing, but we are for those that can’t see, we’re a good one and a half meters away from each other.

Susan:

Absolutely, keeping COVID-safe. You had the COVID-safe sign on the door. That’s very nice, Darren.

Darren:

But one of the reasons that I wanted to have this conversation is the fact that you have quite a rigourous and established career that started very much in the corporate world. And now, you’re working with agencies to help them understand the corporate world, aren’t you?

Susan:

Yes, definitely. Well, look, it’s like anything, what I loved doing bachelor of commerce marketing, I love doing marketing because of course, I hated accounting. So, I love to do marketing like most marketers. And I think what I love is that you can be on both sides of marketing.

So, if you started at the corporate side and learned the rigours of what marketing is and how marketing has so many touchpoints with running a business and revenue generation for a business, then going to the — which I then did to the advertising side, working for ad agencies in New York. I found it was a fantastic shift because I was able to see, as you said, I’ve got both sides of the fence; jumped the barbed wire fence, as they say, from corporate marketing to advertising, and doing business development for advertising in New York as well.

So, it’s been quite an eclectic career in some respects, I think.

Darren:

And doing those big jobs and especially in a city like New York, which is fabulous, it’s interesting, isn’t it? Because the bigger the market and the bigger the organisation, the more siloed they become. You end up being in quite narrow areas even though you’re working in quite big organisations. That’s true, isn’t it?

Susan:

Yes. Are you talking from the corporate side, you mean, or from the agency?

Darren:

Corporate and agency.

Susan:

Yeah, that’s true, that’s true. Look, I think the corporate side, definitely, I mean corporates have always been quite siloed and I think they have the marketing, finance, you have your operations, you have your production arm — none of them talk to each other.

I worked actually for Huhtamaki, which is a huge Finnish company doing (I know, it doesn’t sound so exciting, but it was at the time) high volume Lilly brand of paper plates and cups, for example. And I looked after new product development.

So again, being sort of the marketing creative side, I loved new product development because it gives you an opportunity to really see what do consumers want, how can you spin something new into a large organisation.

And I think working across that large organisation like Huhtamaki, I realized you had so many siloed divisions you had to work across as a marketing director. I was actually a product manager at the time.

And I think you’re right, that silos can be quite difficult as a marketing person to understand how do all of the silos of an organisation work together like a jigsaw puzzle to then, deliver a product to the consumer they’re going to want to buy. So, that was a big learning, I think in large corporate.

Darren:

I remember organising for a client who was a large corporate, a meeting of their marketing team, which had over 400 people, and the various agencies that they worked with. And we had name tags for everyone. And I found the marketers were actually introducing themselves to each other because they didn’t know that their own colleagues were actually working within the organisation. They thought they were the agency. It was so funny.

And the agencies are standing over there sort of going, “Why aren’t they talking to us?” So, I had to say, “The agencies are over there.”

Susan:

That’s right, talk to them. They’re the ones you need to be speaking to. Well, that’s so funny. I mean, I know the same thing happens. Working as the product manager, you would have agencies, I would have agencies calling me all the time to work with me.

And you learn very quickly, they call you up and one of the mistakes, I think, a lot of agencies make (and that’s something I learned when I was in the corporate side), they’re all about themselves. They talk about, “This is what we do,” but they hadn’t really researched what I, as a product manager, would want from them.

So, I think that’s something that’s really important. So often, if we had pitches, that’s the same thing you want to look out for, well, who’s going to actually give you what you need, who’s researched you, how do they know what you really need, and what do the consumers want from your product? So, I think that’s a part that agencies often forget about.

Darren:

And I just want to go back to that point that the agencies can often be very siloed. I think I probably threw you a little bit because what I meant was the holding companies, where you’ve got the sort of creative agency, and then they’ll have their direct marketing, and then media.

And so, while you think that they’re somehow all part of one organisation, they aren’t, they’re very separate. And even within that, I remember, I think it was Ogilvy, they had over 600 or 700 people in the New York office. And there were people in there that only worked on certain accounts and they didn’t know each other either.

Susan:

Oh, 100%. I mean, I think that’s where a lot of bigger agencies, especially as the media landscape changed, the advertising landscape changed, it became very difficult for them to service a client because there were so many different areas that didn’t speak to each other.

I mean, I worked for Foote, Cone & Belding. So, FCB was huge, a huge organisation. I looked after the Grid airlines account. I actually lived in Jakarta for a year looking after the Grid airlines account. And I remember we had a creative agency in Jakarta and I managed a creative agency actually in Sydney as well.

So, the two creative agencies that I had to deal with, they didn’t even know each other. I was like the liaison point between two creative agencies — no, really, between the creatives both in Jakarta and in Sydney.

And then, on the other hand, I had to deal again with the client. And sometimes as you said, deal with other areas of Foote, Cone & Belding, FCB, and not everyone knew each other. They were I don’t know how many, but it must have been hundreds of people. I don’t how large it was, but it was enormous.

So, I think those larger sorts of holding companies you’re right, they have divisions all across the world, how do they even know each other? They don’t, it’s very hard.

I did hear that in the UK, one of the big agencies has started a huge intranet, trying to introduce their staff to each other across the globe. You probably would know more about that.

Darren:

Yeah, well, Publicis have invested in that. And also, before that PHD on the media side, and it was more than just introducing it. They were trying to build an intranet that would allow the staff to actually contribute to projects.

So, you could literally do things like if you’re sitting in Shanghai and you’ve got a particular problem with a particular client or category, you could put onto that a message: “Anyone worked on this type of business” and start to get chatting happening around the globe.

Which I thought was a really interesting idea. It didn’t work for them in pitches because it got to the point (and you touched on it a minute ago) they were so focused on explaining the methodology that they forgot to explain the benefits to the advertiser. And so, there was this whole section in every pitch, and that only happened once or twice, because I said stop doing this.

But they’d be going on, “Oh, well, it’s an intranet and it allows sharing.” I’m going, “Okay, we’ve all got that. What’s it mean for this client?”

Susan:

Yes, exactly. I think, well, that’s it. Look, agencies like all of us, you focus on yourself and you realise you can’t (especially if you’re a bigger agency with so many staff) — you can’t afford to just focus on yourselves. You’ve got to focus, as you said, on what is the client wanting in this pitch and who are the best people to organise it.

But actually, just interestingly, so the intranet platform let’s say, for Publicis, how is that working? I mean, has it really made a difference to how they actually operate with clients? Because at the end of the day, any business, whether you’re an agency or a corporate, you’re only as good as how many clients you keep and how much money you make from your clients. Has that in any way, streamlined their operations for clients?

Darren:

So, the platform, when it was launched was called Marcel, and I’ve talked to two clients that are working with Publicis and they both say that it helps. The whole experience is closer to seamless, in that groups do work well together, but it’s actually open-

Susan:

That’s good, so it has worked then.

Darren:

So, it’s opened up channels. Except that the agencies rarely talk about the fact that it makes it seamless for clients. They talk about technology. It’s a bit like the old copywriting thing of don’t talk about the features, talk about the benefits, and yet they rarely seem to make that loop.

So, that point that they’re so focused on themselves — but I don’t think it’s themselves. I think they think this is clever, we’ll look clever if we talk about it. But in actual fact, that doesn’t apply. Does it? If you just talk about how clever you are, how clever are you?

Susan:

Well, interesting point. I think it’s like they always say; I think it’s better to show people rather than tell people. I think that’s the important thing.

So, I think showing people what are they — as you said if Publicis, if their clients are saying this is useful, great. Well often, even these large corporates, they don’t have a very streamlined I guess, business development communication program. So, they’re not really telling clients these are the benefits that this platform has provided.

Because it’s not about the platform, doesn’t matter what you’re doing. It’s really about the people; what are the people doing with that platform and how is that making business faster, more efficient, better for the client. But if you’re not telling the clients, then how are they going to know? If you’re a big publicist and you’re going to pitch to a new client, then how are they going to know that your platform makes a difference if you don’t talk about it in the right context for that client?

I mean, one thing — I did read that book not long ago, just recently I picked it up, it was Saatchi & Saatchi’s book called Chutzpah. And it obviously talks about the rise of Saatchi & Saatchi. They were fantastic self-promoters, really fantastic.

So, I think a lot of agencies forget that you need to be your own best self-promoter to actually win clients and carve out a USP for yourself. I think that’s something that’s really important. And I think it’s just because they’re too involved in like the cobbler’s children never have any shoes. I think agencies suffer from that great creative work for clients, but then they don’t turn the spotlight on themselves or they don’t do it strategically, I think that’s the key.

Darren:

I think there’s also a problem because I was a copywriter creative director. And I always say the three hardest jobs in any agency is the agency credentials, writing those. Because everyone has an opinion and no one … everyone’s so busy trying to be everything to everyone.

The second is the Christmas invitation because everyone has an opinion about that-

Susan:

Yes, that’s right. And include the office dog or not.

Darren:

And then the Christmas card to go out to all the clients and suppliers and things, because everyone’s got an opinion. The trouble is that without an underlying strategy or an understanding of who you are, what you stand for, anything’s possible, isn’t it?

Susan:

Oh, it is. No, I agree with you. So, that’s why I’m saying that agencies really should have some sort of program where they say, “Who are we, who are we wanting to target, what are the industries we want, what niches do we want, and what have we done for clients that’s different from our competitors?” And I think that’s the key for any agencies to then go out and actually start really honing their credentials, so it’s going to attract the clients they want.

Often, it’s the opportunistic I find with even the biggest agencies , theywill be opportunistic. It’s like, oh, the chairman had dinner with or had drinks with so-and-so and the head of Porsche and now they’ve got the Porsche account. Well, I don’t know if that’s happening so much anymore. I’m not sure.

Darren:

No, it’s not happening. And that’s because the bigger the client, the more likely they are to have a procurement rigour around that and just to be able to appoint. I mean, it does still happen occasionally, but when it does, everyone’s a bit like, “Oh, that’s shocking.”

Susan:

How did that happen?

Darren:

Yes, how did that happen? And then there are question marks about, well, why did they do that?

So, a lot of what you’re talking about there is really just applying in some ways, a very basic marketing strategy process to your own business.

Susan:

Absolutely, it is. And most companies don’t do it, let alone agencies. But any business, most businesses especially when you’re in a creative field, I think, because we are creatives, I guess, and you have so many different strings to a bow. Always you’re chasing the new client, and they’re very transaction-focused, maybe can I say.

So, if you suddenly know that Porsche or Mercedes has a pitch, you get your whole team working on that pitch for weeks or maybe months sometimes, weeks to get that client. And then after all the flurry ends and you’ve done such fantastic work and maybe you win the client, maybe you don’t — but they then go on to the next transactional item if that makes sense. They’re not looking at it, as you said, in a strategic way to really keep the engines going between those pitches.

Darren:

Well, it’s because they often feel that they ended up with the opportunity for not standing for anything. And actually, in many ways, trying to be everything to everyone. And I’ve always found that agencies are fearful, that if they somehow have a positioning and have a purpose and a belief and a way of working, that somehow that will reduce the number of opportunities they can possibly get.

Susan:

Well, I think it’s just the opposite though, don’t you think, Darren? You would have seen it, you’ve spoken to hundreds of thousands of agencies over the years.

Darren:

And seen hundreds of thousands of pitches and you’re right. The old saying is trying to be something to everyone means you’re nothing to anyone, is absolutely true.

And so, it always amazes me. I know people always say the cobbler’s shoes or the busman’s holidays and things like that, but it’s really not an excuse. I mean, you worked in the corporate world as a marketer, you went to big agencies promoting those, and then you started your own business. Were you acutely aware of the need to have a marketing strategy for yourself?

Susan:

I did, I did. I must admit I went into it, I had spent so much time — I always knew I wanted to have my own business, which was something that was in the back of my mind, but I knew I wanted to get some business, some runs on the board with businesses beforehand.

So no, I actually made a very conscientious or conscious decision to move into an area that I’d already worked in. I had just finished an MBA and I had one of the MBA directors that was a McKinsey partner actually, and he worked a lot in Singapore and Hong Kong across Asia. So, he had a company, it was called. It was one of the very first, I guess, digital platforms for investors to come and look at corporate companies and try and find out which corporate company was better to invest in.

Anyway, so the bottom line being, I ended up being selected as the country director, opened up the Australian offices. They didn’t have Australian offices yet. So, I spent two years working on that. And that to me, opened up an area where I thought there was a great opportunity in this niche to digitise corporate marketing, corporate digital marketing.

And so, I actually ended up finding two software developers, developed software, I’d actually seen similar software overseas, but I tailored it for the Australian market. So, I guess, consciously targeted the digital sort of corporate communications area with the software that I knew that would be unique to that market.

Certainly, when I started, obviously over the years, when the company was successful, we had lots of competitors by then. But at least, initially, I was the first one really in Australia to launch that software.

So, I think I had to learn, to answer your question Darren — I learned that I’d been on the agency side, I saw how hard it was trying to be everything to everyone. I worked on the corporate side and I saw that if you have one product … look, let’s face it, I always had companies like Coca Cola. They’d be making the same thing for how long now?

Darren:

Yeah, over a hundred years.

Susan:

Over a hundred years and they’re still doing well. So, I think I realised that having something that — you’re never going to be everything to all people. I think that’s something that agencies struggle with. You can’t be everything to all people.

But if you stand for something or you can actually narrow yourself down into a niche, then suddenly, you attract the right clients as well. And I think that’s really important for an agency to attract the right clients too because taking on the wrong clients can also be a disaster for an agency.

Darren:

Oh, absolutely. And whether that’s cultural or size or whatever, it has a huge impact.

In fact, let’s get onto the independent agencies. And I want to, in this conversation, be really clear that when we say independent, we don’t just mean small because there are some quite large independent agencies. But a lot of them are relatively smaller compared to the big network agencies. So, they don’t have that footprint, they don’t have the resources necessary.

Have you noticed, and especially during the COVID pandemic, there is definitely a higher level of interest amongst marketers to talk to independent agencies?

Susan:

Look, I think definitely. I mean, we have seen, to be honest, just with our clients over the last six months — I guess, from the lockdown, from March until say June, I think a lot of the corporates were definitely nervous and they pulled back on their marketing budgets. And our clients felt that. They had a lot of projects that in the end, didn’t go ahead.

But from June until now, certainly, from the beginning of June even until now, I think there’s been a shift in perspective with the large marketing organisations and they’re loosening the budgets. They’re saying that look, we have to live with COVID for now. It’s not going away soon, but luckily, in Australia, at least, we’ve contained it.

And so, I think businesses now are going ahead and I think what’s happening is that the smaller independent agencies because they’ve been able to be more nimble, I think than the larger holding companies, larger ones, they’re able to hold on to their staff that they had. And now, they’re, I think, in a better position to actually go in and start pitching with the corporates whose budgets have — let’s face it, they’ve shrunk.

If they were working with big corporate before, big agency, I should say before, they may not be able to afford to work with the bigger agencies now. So, I think a smaller agency now has a better ability to capture the attention of a corporate. And again, but they have to obviously approach them in the right way, but they can absolutely work with corporate clients, I think.

So, there’s been a shift, I think, in favour of the smaller, as you said, independent agencies, without a doubt.

Darren:

Yeah. I mean, it’s been interesting because I think there is always a place for independent agencies.

Susan:

Absolutely, of course.

Darren:

But it certainly has during this period become really obvious that … I was wondering if part of it (to your point) is that they are more autonomous, they’re more nimble. But also, I wonder whether it’s also this sense of often, it feels that they’re more committed in that the senior management of that organisation is right there in front of you, and they make those decisions about the relationship, that impact the relationship with the client.

That there’s something about them being a “local” agency or a “local” organisation, which is quite different. Because what we have seen with the big network agencies is the networks have really, during this time, played a strong hand about being US-based or UK-based or French or Japanese. I think I’ve covered all the networks there.

Do you think that’s part of it as well, that in a market like Australia or South Africa or wherever, that there is that sense of a bit of nationalism in a way; positive nationalism, not a negative nationalism?

Susan:

I think so. I think you’re right. I think sometimes I think certainly in Australia — I mean, look, let’s face it, we’re a continent as well as a country. So, we’re furthest away from all of Europe and Asia’s obviously more on our doorstep.

But I think you’re right. I think that corporates now want to work with the top senior executives at an agency and know they’re the ones they’re dealing with for their project. It’s not going to be pushed aside to a junior team. And often, if you’re in a bigger corporate, bigger agency, that’s what happens. They push it aside to a smaller team, I guess.

So, I think, yes, I think it is another reason why, again, I think those independent agencies should now more than ever, be looking to corporates for some of their business. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t. And I think the mindset is very important with that too. I don’t know if you have found that; with independent agencies not thinking why would a corporate want to work with me when they’ve got, as you said, the large holding companies to work with?

Well, maybe they don’t need offices in 10 countries to work with them.

Darren:

Look, I think part of it is that mindset, and it’s even impacted us around pitching —  there was one of Australia’s largest insurance companies and they had to pitch. And the agency that was handling it had about 50 plus staff working full time. And I got a whole lot of small agencies of like 5 or 10 people going, “We want to pitch, we want to pitch” and I’m going, “No, you’re just too small. If you win it …”

Susan:

They don’t want to hear that, Darren, you know that.

Darren:

You have to increase five times overnight to just handle this one client. And also, is it right for you? I mean, if based on the fact that you’re going to go from potentially five people to 55 people all around one client, is that really the best decision? “Oh yes, yes. We can do anything if the money’s there.”

And I love that optimism. It reminds me of the Far Side, Gary Larson.

Susan:

Oh yes, that’s right. He’s big on cartoons.

Darren:

And there’s the slide and the spider has woven the web and at the bottom of the slide it says, “If I pull this off, I’ll eat like a king.” And it’s just that optimism of yes, we can do it, which I think is great.

But there’s also procurement, for instance, will always look at those risk factors, which will work against smaller independent agencies.

Susan:

Well, funny, you should say, because we’ve had quite a number of our clients actually have been in a position where they’re pitching. And procurement now, which I’ve never seen before (I don’t know if you’ve seen this Darren, with some of your clients) — but they’ve actually asked for all the full revenue and financials for the last 12 months.

Now, I haven’t seen that in every pitch before, from procurement asking for that as part of the pitch. And I’m thinking it’s because the executive, for that reason, they’re worried about maybe smaller agencies or doesn’t matter what size the agency is, is it financially viable? Will they still be around in four months’ time, in two years’ time? So, that’s something that’s come out of this uncertainty I think with COVID.

Darren:

And procurement has always done that as a rigorous risk assessment. The danger is that, of course, the big networks can put down huge amounts of money and it’s just looks like a blip, except that there’s-

Susan:

They might have a huge debt that they haven’t seen.

Darren:

And I was going to say that there’s really no proof that that’s actual financial viability. We’ve always resisted that. And it’s been asked of us when we’ve tendered for projects. They have said that, and I say, “Well, there’s only two people that know my financials. One is my accountant and the other’s the tax office and they’re not telling anyone.”

But some of the smart things that have happened, some procurement teams are now using — there’s a couple of online websites where you go and put in your numbers and it comes up with a score. And so, this is a sort of financial viability score, which I think if you’re going to consider that, but I still don’t think you can do it just on the numbers. You have to get a sense of how long the company’s been in business and what their client base is like. It’s not as simple as just looking at your financials.

Susan:

Well, especially if you’re a private company. I mean, if you did say you’re worth $50 million and you’re a private company, how did they know? How do they know that’s true or not? So, I think you’re right. I think those larger corporates and procurement departments have to start looking at other measures rather than just your financials.

But you’re right, how long you’ve been in business? If you’ve been in business 15 years, that’s going to be a big difference to someone who’s been in business five months. So, there are other measures. You need to have other measures in place.

But talking about procurement, look, that’s one of the bugbears, I think again, for the smaller agencies, is really navigating procurement because it can be another world if you haven’t worked through procurement before. And that’s where I think the bigger agencies have a bit of an edge because they’re used to probably dealing with procurement.

Darren:

Now, I’ve said this on a number of occasions and it was interesting on LinkedIn, a procurement professional from of all the places, the Middle East, challenged me and said, in actual fact, there’s a big trend in procurement now for the diversity of supplies.

And I think that perhaps if this is true if this is actually a definite direction that procurement is looking at, that they’re not wanting to have all of their supply chain bundled into a very narrow perspective, that this is a benefit for independent agencies. Because what they can prove is that the diversification of that supply chain actually gives stability rather than putting all the eggs in one basket.

Susan:

Well, that’s true. Well, it depends on what do they mean by diversity? Are they saying geographic diversity? Is it like gender diversity? I mean-

Darren:

All types. He was saying things like geographic diversity, that the pandemic has made them realise that you can’t rely on international flights or supply chains like that. The size, putting all of your supply with a big supplier because everyone is vulnerable. We’re facing tough times ahead because of this. Even the biggest clients are going to be vulnerable.

Susan:

Yes. Well, I think that makes the point. I mean, having geographic diversity I think is really important. I think that’s important. But also, nowadays, the other point is don’t forget, the world is so flat. They said years ago, Thomas Friedman came up with this saying; “The earth is flat” in terms of finance and economics. But even more so, now, I think the fact that most of us, as we talked about earlier, Darren, Zoom, everyone’s on Zoom now.

So, you can actually find an agency that may not be in your city to work with via Zoom. You can still review them and speak to them and work with them. And I know even for some of our clients, I mean, they have clients in another country. In fact, one of our clients just recently, which is amazing from Melbourne, during this lockdown, she’s actually managed to secure two new clients. One of them is based in Canada.

So, that’s what I’m saying. So, I think you can do geographic diversity, even from Australia.

Darren:

And Australia was very parochial in a way, because we would often get a client saying, “Well, we need an agency in Brisbane, or we need an agency in Perth” and that’s completely gone out the window now. So, just-

Susan:

But that’s good, I think that’s a positive, isn’t it?

Darren:

So, just reinforcing that point, that it’s opened up the world. So, it’s opened up the world for Australia to source outside of Australia. But I think it’s also opened up the fact that people will find you if you represent something that they want.

Susan:

Yes, 100%.

Darren:

So, let’s get to The Agency Accelerators. What was the motivation? Was it just seeing how agencies were struggling with getting new business?

Susan:

I think it was. I mean, I think one of the reasons is that Peter, who’s my partner in the business, he’s been running his own agency for 20 years now, Tick Yes, and I’ve been running Interactive Investor for 15 years, as I mentioned to you. And both of us, we both started our agencies separately without knowing each other. We both targeted corporate clients, even though we were smaller agencies.

And I think that it showed us that we were able to win corporate clients even though we were small agencies. So, then, over the years, obviously-

Darren:

So, proof of concept.

Susan:

It was proof of concept. Exactly, Darren. It’s proof of concept. So, we realised that someone like myself … I mean, I know when I started my agency, to be honest with you, I was in the middle of a divorce and I had a seven-year-old son. So, that was how I started my agency.

Darren:

You like a challenge, don’t you?

Susan:

That was definitely a challenge, Darren.

Darren:

Emotional, financial, everything.

Susan:

Absolutely. So, I really had everything you would think against me, but the trouble with me, was I had no plan B. That was it. Plan A was I start my agency, it had to work and-

Darren:

And you made it work.

Susan:

And I made it work. That was it. And I think that to me, is the important thing with any agency owner, and that’s something we’ve learned working with our clients, is a couple of reasons why we started; number one, because certainly, with Peter and I business development has always been our favourite thing. To me, there’s nothing more exciting than winning a client. To me, that’s the lifeblood of any businesse, is winning clients.

And we realised that so many businesses and agencies are not doing it strategically. And we over the years, have fallen in to most of the potholes that most agency owners fall into. So, we’ve sort of learned to navigate over, under, around or in between those potholes. And so, therefore, we love working with agencies for that reason. And we love the fact that their success means we also work with agencies that are open to change.

That’s one thing I find with the agencies that work with us; they get the results because they’re willing to actually put the program into place, a strategic business development program, and not wait for the opportunistic sales anymore, the opportunistic business development. And frankly, to be honest, we also love working with agency owners, because we are one. So, we get them. We understand them and we enjoy the comradery with the agency owners.

Darren:

So, when agencies come to you and they’re large-

Susan:

Oh, they’re big. Actually, one of our agencies has 173 staff, so they’re not so small.

Darren:

They’re not. And that’s why I made the point earlier; “indie” doesn’t mean small, “indie” just means independent, it means local management.

But I was going to say when they come to you because my experience is that very few agencies have an articulated new business strategy. They have a series of tactics. When they come to you, those that embrace the opportunity, what do you think it is that they see in what you’re offering? And those that don’t, do you think it’s either laziness or stubbornness that stops them wanting to try something new?

Susan:

Let me think, it’s a good question. Look, I don’t think it’s laziness or stubbornness because I must say, look, most agents, anyone who runs their own business is not lazy. So, I think that it’s always you want to be very brave, I think, to launch and run your own business.

Darren:

They’re often very stubborn though.

Susan:

Stubborn, yes. I must admit you’re right. Often, they’re very stubborn, that goes without saying. And the ones who come to us, let me think — I guess the key point is they know that they can’t do it alone, that sometimes … it’s really, you need a coach sometimes like with anything in business.

If you’re in your own business or in your own head, it’s very hard to step outside and see what things could you do better? What is my USP for my agency? What are the best target audiences that I should go after? And if that’s the audience I want, what’s the best way to add value to that audience, to get them to build a relationship with me? Because business is all about relationships at the end of the day. That’s it.

So, it’s all about trying to take strategic steps to move that relationship along so that they eventually have enough trust in you to give you their business. That’s it. It’s a very simple formula, really. And sometimes, the simplest formula though can be the hardest thing to do if you’re in the middle of it.

So, I think one of the many things that our clients have said they love about working with us, is number one, just the strategic program. I think that’s obviously key, to have a strategic program in place, as you mentioned earlier, Darren, that a lot of agencies don’t have that.

And secondly, it’s accountability. So, a lot of agency owners can be stubborn, as you said. But also, they’re not really accountable to anyone. If you’re the agency owner and you decide not to make five business phone calls today, who’s going to say something to you? No one, your staff are not going to say anything.

So, I think accountability, and that’s even from a well-credentialed agency. Two of the very well-credentialed agencies that are clients of ours have actually (just to use their words), they said, “You two gave us the kick up the bottom to do something we’ve been wanting to do for the last few years and haven’t.”

So, I mean, to me, that’s wonderful. I mean, even that can be sufficient to drive a more strategic approach to business development.

Darren:

Because I know we have embraced and we actively look for and want to encourage independence. The problem is that the whole pitch process is not the best way of winning new business.

Susan:

No, it’s a roll of the dice, isn’t it really? In some respects.

Darren:

Well, we try and make it not. And I keep saying to agencies, “If you lose the pitch, especially if we’re managing it, it doesn’t mean that you’re bad. It just means you weren’t the right fit.” That when you end up in that whole selection process, you’re being compared to other agencies. And yeah, because basically what we try and do, is we make it for the marketer to try on some different outfits to see which one fits the best. So, it doesn’t mean that they’re bad.

But I think the other problem with pitching is that there have to be losers.

Susan:

Of course, but normally, there’s five, isn’t there? Four or five?

Darren:

And that’s the worst part about it. We get it down to three at the end. But yeah, it starts off at six to start with. But yeah, I think it’s really, to rely on the opportunity of pitching for business alone is a really sad approach. A much more strategic way is to … well, what is it that they should be doing? Identifying targets and building relationships?

Susan:

Oh, definitely. Well, I think doing what we said — I think I agree with you 100%. It’s a dangerous agency if they’re only relying on pitches, because as you said, even if you have three at the end of the day, you still only have a 33% chance of winning. Unless you have some insider information, inside action into that pitch that you’re doing, which can happen. If you developed enough relationships, you might have an inside running on it.

But still, I think you need to compliment … look, pitches are an everyday reality for the bigger agencies. I think corporates will still want pitches. Would you agree? I mean, it’s not going away. And they have to because the procurement-

Darren:

Yeah, and they have to because procurement’s saying that you can’t just give your business to someone that you like to work with and it’s like, “But I want to work with them.” “No, you have to go through a pitch,” which is terrible. Because on that basis, you’re artificially constructing comparison just to get what you want.

One of the things we are really aware of is making sure that the client doesn’t have a preconceived idea because what we’re inclined to do is then say, “Okay, procurement, if this is the outcome, let’s do the process without actually doing the pitch. We can make sure that you’re not going to pay too much.” You can do all that without going to market in an open tender or a closed tender.

Susan:

Oh, definitely. I think definitely you can. And also, it’s often a waste of time for the corporate clients to go through a huge long-winded pitch. And I think, look, I think you would know this better than I, in that respect with pitching; is it’s hard to compare apples to apples when you’re pitching with creative agencies because you are pitching a creative team of individuals.

I mean, for an agency, their assets walk out the door every day, that’s it. They have just their people. So, I think to try to minimise the creativity or how can I say — trying to box in agencies into one package and then procurement to have to compare three apples to apples, I don’t know how they do it because it really is a very difficult scenario, I would think.

Darren:

Yeah, I say to people, and I’ve written about this; there’s four Cs. The first is the capability. The agency has to have the capabilities, but that says to prove. If they’d done it for someone else, yes, then you have the capability.

The next one, and I think this is the most important is chemistry. Because it’s about working with people. The best work comes from our teams working together that are aligned in their values and expectations.

The third one, I call it to be a C, I call it creativity. But what I mean by that is having alignment to what you are wanting as far as creative, innovative. There are clients that say, “I want a creative agency,” but they don’t actually mean the best creative agency, they just mean someone that will do something that’s a bit novel rather than outrageously. And you have to get that alignment right.

And then the third one is the commercial arrangement. It’s all got to be bundled up. Now, the danger is-

Susan:

And the commercial one’s probably the easiest one, the commercial one is not so hard probably, is it?

Darren:

Yeah, except that there’s been so much focus on it, especially in the last decade, since the global recession on the money that agencies are starting to think that that gazump’s the first three — it doesn’t. It’s actually part of the four Cs.

And I think that that’s why taking the approach that you guys are teaching, I guess, or coaching at The Agency Accelerator is the right way because it’s about building the relationship. It’s getting the chemistry right, proving that you have the capabilities, sharing to work out, “Do we have the right type of creativity or innovation? Are we going to irritate or are we going to work well together?” And then sort out the commercial arrangement based on those three.

So, I think it’s terrific — certainly be prepared for pitching, but it’s much better to have a strategy that will help you target the clients you want.

Susan:

Well, definitely. And I think that’s one of the key things, again, that I think we help our clients to do, is like they say, in the absence of a strong brand, your clients will go to cost, that’s it. But if you have a strong brand and you stand for something and that’s a match with the clients that you’re going after, then that’s an irresistible offer. So, they’re not going to go to price then. Do you see what I’m saying?

So, I think that to me, is also really critical, is helping you as an agency to really define who are you, what sort of clients do you want to work with? And yes, what are your capabilities? Because every agency we talk to (and you have the same), they all say they do everything. They always say, “Oh, we do the SEO.” Nowadays, they’re even saying they do SEO and SEM. We do pay per click, we do advertising, above the line, below, they do everything.

Well, you know what? No one is good at everything. It just doesn’t work like that. And I think if you really say you’re good at everything, I think even as a large agency, you have siloed departments that will be good at those different things. But it doesn’t mean they all work together to give you the right strategy all the time.

So, I think it’s very important to fine-tune what you’re offering.

Darren:

Susan, we’ve run out of time. But if there’s an agency person, an independent agency owner that has woken up, it’s the new year, they’re sitting there going, “2021 is my year of growing the business,” what should they do? How do they get in contact with The Agency Accelerators?

Susan:

Well, just go to our website, which is www.theagencyaccelerators.com and basically call Peter and me, we’re happy to have a strategy session with anyone that’s interested and see if we’re a right fit for each other.

Darren:

And I’ll put the link for that into the notes for this podcast. But Susan, thank you very much for popping by and having a conversation.

Susan:

Thank you, Darren.

Darren:

One last question before we go; I’m just wondering is there any particular clients that you think agencies should stay away from?

Ideal for marketers, advertisers, media, and commercial communications professionals, Managing Marketing is a podcast hosted by Darren Woolley and special guests. Find all the episodes here

Want more articles like this? Subscribe to our newsletter:

Fill out my online form.

Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

We're Listening

Have something to say about this article?
Share it with us on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn

Tweet
Share
Share
Buffer
Pin