Posts tagged ‘agencies’
In my new freelance life I‘ve been having lots of meetings with local agencies. From one man bands to UK top 30 agencies and from start-ups to old timers I’ve sat in a lot of agency receptions recently and it’s been a real eye opener.
I’ve been amazed at the sheer diversity of approaches to the design and layout of the ‘shop floor’ of a marketing agency. Take the poky outside-of-a-tardis sized reception that led to an inside-of-a-tardis sized labyrinth of offices. Or the very spacious and swish reception that belonged to an agency with a headcount in single figures. I’ve seen funky industrial spaces and converted listed buildings; agencies with entry buzzers and visitors badges and agencies where the visitors chair was next to the dog basket.
I’ve been quite cheered by the number of agencies that were nice places to hang out in – tidy(ish), spacious, light, bright and even inspiring Creative Spaces. Other agencies had clearly embraced google’s third rule of managing knowledge workers and packed them in, making for an oppressive and claustrophobic environment and some agencies were so new they had yet to get round to hanging a sign above their front door, never mind worry about how their internal space was configured.
The other noticeable thing was the number of Faces from Agencies Past that kept popping up. It rather reinforced what I posted a while ago about how you should try very hard not to fall out with anyone in this industry as inevitably you will end up working with them again in the future…
So would I choose to work full time in any of the agencies I’ve visited recently? I’m not sure. I think I quite like combining the hustle and bustle of agency life (whatever kind of building it might take place in) with the peace and quiet of working from home.
Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger is my predication for what AgencyLife is going to be like – no, HAS to be like – if the industry is to adapt to the realities of life in 2010.
After 2009’s redundancies and cost cutting, there will be less people around to do more work as clients start to spend again, but agencies seem to be reluctant to staff up to meet that demand. Recruitment contacts tell me that the majority of vacancies are only coming up when agencies gain a big new client and don’t have the account handling slack to accommodate them. Worryingly, this doesn’t seem to be being reflected in creative recruitment or freelancing, so it could be a particularly busy 2010 for overstretched creative departments.
Being brutal, anyone who was treading water in an agency, non-essential to operations or just not that good has probably been made redundant by now. Lots of good, talented, experienced, decent people went too, but inevitably, those that remain and haven’t been tempted away by clientside salaries or voluntary redundancy packages are going to be pretty blumin good at and dedicated to their jobs. Add to that a tiny dash of New Year’s Optimism and clients being a little more open to trying new things to make their depleted budgets work harder and you have a great environment in which to produce some terrific work.
The more connected we are, the faster we communicate. As technology continues to make sharing information easier and cheaper, client expectations of how fast agencies should respond to pitches, tenders, campaigns and meeting requests seems to increase accordingly. The idea that you can have it ‘fast, good or cheap – choose two’, doesn’t seem to have been embraced clientside. And of course in the current economic climate, ‘fast, good and expensive’ isn’t going to go down very well either…
But in these challenging conditions, the really good agencies and really good people will shine out. If agencies can adapt to the changing economy, technology and environment while still turning out great, creative, effective work, then they truly deserve to rise to the top of the pile. It’s going to be survival of the fittest – and of the fastest to adapt.
One of my friends is a vet and she was telling me today about the special business skills for vets course she’s taking because “you’d be amazed how many vets end up in charge of large practices without any idea of how to run a business”.
I said that sounded pretty familiar actually. Just because someone is a great copywriter, designer or even account handler it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are equipped with the ability to read a balance sheet or to get their heads around the latest health & safety legislation.
Of course agencies have always relied on back room finance, facilities and HR staff to keep the business running smoothly, but it strikes me that a broad understanding of little things like the difference between net and gross profit is perhaps a bit thin on the ground in some (but not all!!!) agency boardrooms.
Which might explain away a few agency failures over the years…
Re-reading Victoria Routledge’s chick-lit debut Friends Like These, I found the most brilliant letter from the heroine PR exec to her client:
I am delighted to enclose the proof of your Spring/Summer promo brochure. We are thrilled with the finished version and hope you will love it as much as we do. Everyone here at Dunleary & Bright is sure that this will be the breakthrough season for Detritus and that this dynamic promo will be the clinching factor in securing excellent magazine and TV coverage.
I would be amazed if you could be bothered to cast your eye over this proof and let me have any of the myriad and pointless corrections you might like to make. I will need to pass this on to the printers by August 31st, so I won’t expect to get any indication from your office that you have actually received this until it is far too late to do anything, that is to say, late September.
When your directionless and inarticulate PA does get round to it, I will, of course be here on my direct line for personal abuse and blame-apportioning. Please do contact me if there are any further questions I can answer, or more likely, if you require the whole thing explained to you, with diagrams.
All best wishes, Rachel Sanderson, Dunleary & Bright
New Business is turning into a bit of a farce at the moment.
A client I pitched for in November (who announced within 24 hours that we were down to the final two agencies) let us know today that they’d finally made the decision to appoint the other lot. That’s three months it took them to chose between agencies A and B. How hard can it be?
Then there’s the never ending PQQs, ITTs and other tendering related, time vampire red tape, the client who took so long to decide on which agency to appoint that they went bust in the meantime and the clients who are seemingly incapable of returning calls or emails politely enquiring if a long overdue pitch decision is imminent.
Pitching is an incredibly expensive way of doing business and most clients don’t seem to realise that the agency ‘overflow’ resources which have to be redirected towards time consuming pitches are becoming increasingly scarce in businesses that are running a tight ship in order to stay afloat in this stormy economy.
Fortunately my place is winning new business as well as being messed about a lot (otherwise I’d be worrying about my job), but in the meantime, may I present the New Rules For Clients Upon Calling A Pitch:
- Underestimate the budget you have allocated as it will almost certainly have reduced by the time you get round to appointing an agency.
- If you think your company is about to go bust, now is not a good time to hold a pitch.
- Pitching is very, very expensive from the agency’s point of view. And it takes up a lot of your time and resources too. There may be agencies hungry for work and desperate to get on the pitch list, but limit creative pitches to as many agencies as you can count on one hand. And tell them how many they’re up against so they can make an informed decision on whether to proceed or not.
- Keep in touch. Honestly, we understand that your company’s circumstances might unexpectedly shift and you’ll need to re-evaluate. But only if you actually talk to us.
you can run, but you can’t hide, Mr Client
We are officially in recession, the economy is nose diving and there’s no question that clients have got less money to spend. Unless you happen to work in Digital (where every agency I know is still turning work away because they’re too busy), it’s looking a bit bleak.
I’ve already written about how as Planners we need to demonstrate our own effectiveness, both externally and internally, but maybe it’s becoming more about redefining the role of Planning itself in light of the new realities.
I’m getting quite evangelical about a greater role for Planning at the NPD stage (and fortunately my agency agrees with me) and from a purely practical point of view, involving Planning at this early stage can make the NPD research work harder and reduce the need for costly additional research and retro fit planning further down the line at the comms stage.
The value of Planning can also be defined in terms of the agency’s bottom line. Good planning advice and involvement upfront in campaign development (advising that those three briefs are actually two, tightening up propositions, giving the account director ammunition to deflect the client’s madder ideas, even on accounts which don’t have a regular Planner assigned to them), results in less creative resource being required, which saves agencies money.
So think about it, how are you saving your clients and your agency money?
I ended up on Creative Director Dave Trott’s blog today. His latest post recounted him bollocking (his words) an account handler’s boss because the account man hadn’t found out why the client wouldn’t buy some ads he’d presented. As I understand it, the discussion mostly consisted of him shouting and swearing at the account handler’s boss. This was apparently OK because ‘it’s worthwhile having a row with her because she’s got a brain and she cares’.
Dave, you really care about the work your produce. I get that. But is there any chance you could communicate this without all the aggression?
I’ve been working in this industry for ten years and I keep coming up against people (men and women, agency and client side) who think its fine to lose it because they’re just being passionate about the work.
I thought we were supposed to be great communicators?
Life’s too short to spend it getting angry – and too short to spend it making other people upset. We use up far too much of our time on earth at work for it to be an aggressive, confrontational environment.
And just because shouting and swearing runs off your back like water, the people you’re dishing it out to might not take it the same way.
I really think as an industry we have to start consistently behaving more professionally (by which I mean politely and with mutual respect) – it’s good for recruitment, for staff retention, for better client relationships and because dishing out that kind of aggressive behaviour on a regular basis is an open invitation to a constructive dismissal claim…
Two or three Agency Tours make their way past my desk every day. New clients, new business prospects and interviewees are all escorted round the agency because look!, some desks! and people! and we have computers and recycling bins and everything! Um, I’m not quite sure what that person does but come and meet someone else who is in the middle of something important and didn’t really want disturbing!
Being shown round an agency can be a good way of getting a feel for it’s size and culture and its very hard to otherwise demonstrate the ‘buzz’ of an agency going full tilt, but in some cases I fear Agency Tours can leave the person being shown round with the impression that the business is rather rubbish at filing, washing up and throwing things away rather than a lean, keen agency machine.
I’d love to know what any Clients reading this think about Agency Tours or if you are an agency bod - how, when and if your agency does them?
I’ve got an in-tray full of Pending Pitch Outcomes. There’s everything in there, from £M+ integrated bonanzas to consultancy projects and startups.
But none of them have been signed off. In every instance we’re the agency of choice, or are down to the final two, but the client has delayed their actual decision to appoint – in some cases for several months now.
It’s a bit disheartening when you (and a large chunk of agency resource) throw yourself into a full blown pitch, confident that the client has promised to make their decision within a few days of your presentation, only to be kept waiting…and waiting…
I’m doing all the usual keeping-front-of-mind proactive measures but it seems that the dire economic conditions are making senior management extremely reluctant to sign off any new marketing spend or to commit themselves to anything that doesn’t have an immediate and totally measurable ROI (hello, online media chaps).
Pitching in itself isn’t exactly a cheap way of winning business. But the Tender Queens tell me they’re experiencing similar problems and it’s not just my agency, it seems to be pretty much across the board. So I guess we’ll all just have to keep keeping our fingers crossed.
Worried about the economy or think its all a lot of hot air? A couple of months ago I would have said that we were in danger of talking ourselves into a recession, now I think its clear that we are in for one whether we like it or not:
- Manufacturing output fell for the sixth successive month in August, shrinking by 0.4 per cent, marking the longest run of falling UK manufacturing output since 1980. (source: The Times)
- UK advertising spend on traditional media will slump 5.8% this year, a major slide from the previous 2.4% drop predicted in June, ZenithOptimedia said today (source: Media Guardian)
- On the upside, if you work in Digital, Internet advertising expenditure grew 21% year on year in the first half of 2008 to £1.7bn as the total ad market fell by 0.7%, according to the Internet Advertising Bureau (source: BrandRepublic)
Basically what I’m saying is batten down the hatches, its here.
We are going to have to make client’s smaller budgets work a lot harder and unless we get our acts together in terms of evaluation, we will see clients shifting their budgets into digital – the only media outside DM that can actually demonstrate ROI. My agency mates across the country in online media tell me they’ve got more work than they know what to do with.
The real issue is simple – consumers and businesses are going to have less money to spend. So our clients will be willing to spend less in wooing them. To top it all, at the most basic level if the government is getting less taxes from business and individuals, it has less for the DoH, DCMS, MoD, UKTI and the like to spend with us.
Since the average agency bod is my experience lives financially pretty much month to month (as an industry we’re not exactly famous for our love of cautious saving and living within our means), some people are going to get hit very hard very quickly if they get made redundant.
What can you do? I’ve not got all the answers but I suppose for starters you could develop a sudden interest in your agency’s steady-away B2B client that has weathered every financial storm since 1897. Or you could decide that online media planning is what you really always wanted to do.
I think Planners are going to have to start demonstrating their own effectiveness outside of the IPA paper as well. I’ve always said that without Planners effective ads would still get made, its just that they would be less insightful and therefore effective – but they’d still work. Indeed many agencies manage perfectly well without Planners at all. So maybe we need to start calculating the value of the articles we write, the conferences we speak at, the away-days we attend and so on. After all (to steal from the seemingly recession proof Tesco), every little helps.