Launching an agency may be the dream for most stifled visionaries but with almost 660,000 startups cropping up in the UK alone in 2017, the competition is stiff. The speakers at The Drum’s Agency Acceleration Day impart the advice they with they’d known before they’d started their own shop.
For Sally Prichett, co-owner of Something Big, it was when her clients branded the agency's website as “disgraceful” that she realised something wrong.
“For the first five years, our website was under construction,” she said. “We were really busy and we were really focused on new clients.”
However, with only a landing page professing the shop’s commitment to design and creation, Something Big decided to invest time into its development.
Pritchett explained: “Now, I think in the last five years, our website is one of the most important things to us.”
One of the biggest issues agencies face is finding time to worry about themselves amid placating and creating work for their clients. Branding and marketing often falls down the to-do list in the quest for business growth
But Lena Robinson co-founder of Kiwi Grey, pointed out that “if you take the logos off, then [agencies] pretty much sound the same and talk the same”.
“The challenge we have been putting out to [agencies] is that they need to remember they are also a brand,” she said. “Purpose gets talked a lot about at the moment, but a lot of it is shoehorned and a lot of it is bullshit. But it does exist.
“It might have gotten lost or you might’ve forgotten it but there will be something about why that business came into existence in the first place.”
Charlie Hurrell, managing director at Mcgarrybowen, agreed, however explained that her agency has lost a lot of time trying to find its purpose.
“Don’t get caught up trying to reinvent the wheel,” she advised. “We’ve expended a lot of time and energy in making sure we have core assets. Every agency will have a different set of these, but … [they can make marketing your business as smooth as possible.”
Choose the right tech
Choosing the right technology from the off can be vital to the growth strategy of an agency.
Hurrell explained how Mcgarrybowen are “investing ahead of the curve” in tech systems.
“From the client’s perspective, it’s important they can see we are investing in our processes,” she said.
Cain Ullah, founder and chief executive of Red Badger, added there is no need to invest in technology for the sake of it, and new businesses should take a step back from technology until it is really needed.
“When you are starting, go for the cheaper option,” he said. “Spreadsheets can work for the most part of a business before you need to consider or evolve into something completely different.”
Choose the right partner
Choosing the right partner is key to a startup as Iris’ Bell explained. After unexpectedly winning a £10m loan, he explained that it was the “worst thing that could have happened to agency.”
He later explained “Banks are not really into relationships – they tell you they are but they’re not.”
It was in 2014 that the agency found a partner in Cheil, something the co-founder advises more startups to do in a bid to avoid banks. At the time, its joint chief executive, Ian Millner, said: “This partnership won’t change who we are or what we do as a creative innovation network – but will extend our global reach and capabilities, and enable our clients and people to benefit from the huge opportunity presented by a true ‘East Meets West’ and ‘West Meets East’ network.”
Outside of the traditional advertising space, Accenture is proving an alternative partner – or cash injection – to many agencies. The consultancy has spent the last year investing in a number of different corners of the industry with its latest venture seeing it acquire New York-based digital agency MXM.
Joy Bhattacharya, managing director of Accenture Interactive, explained: “We invested up front in creating an identity, and [are now] starting with an acquisition strategy.
“I am sure everyone will catch up, but at this point in time we have a little advantage.”