Archive for the ‘Agency life’ Category

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What a year! As one of my colleagues summarised nicely when I asked him if he’s looking forward to going back home for the Xmas hols – office life has been such that work doesn’t feel like work and enjoying every minute, looking forward to coming into work, means that whilst the holidays are welcomed, he actually looks forward to coming back to the New Year. Music to our humble GM ears and echoes exactly how I feel about this past year.

It’s not been easy. As seems the way in agency life, we’ve had to say farewell to some incredible minds. We’ve been pushed to deliver to some very tight timeframes and expectations. We launched a third team and had the teething pains associated with that. We’ve brought in new players which at our size always means readjustments of sorts. But the net result at the end of the year is one that I couldn’t be happier with.

First and foremost as I reflect back on the year, I can safely say I am working with some of the most outstanding people I’ve had the honour of working with. Whether it’s the thick layer of new comers ranging from Senior staff, inspiring and motivating our clients and staff alike, or solid foundation of colleagues who have been with us for over 5 years still tirelessly driving and moving us forward, the team here in Sydney is without doubt the thing which inspires the most confidence in me for the year ahead.

And it’s been a good year. We’ve won a Webby. Secured new valuable accounts with the likes of ANZ Stadium and Weight Watchers. Launched some great work for The Benevolent Society, Amnesty International Australia, Thrifty, Cochlear to name just a few. Good work goes beyond how thing look and feel – but the strength of those relationships instils me with further confidence that 2013 will be an even better year.

We’ve officially been labelled by the building here as ‘the cool kids’ – a reference to the constant BBQ’s and drinks we have on the terrace and those are the same words I’ve heard two of our clients reference us too. The fact that we’re managing to have fun whilst we go means, as much as possible, that work genuinely doesn’t feel like work. Our last eNPS (staff satisfaction survey) scored us with a corking average of 8.5. I think it goes beyond the fruit bowls and Bondi Fitness sessions and relates to the fact that we now have three teams who are filled with savvy, enthusiastic and passionate people.

Joining a year ago, my vision was to create an office that would stand out within the Reactive group. I leave this week for hols standing firm in the belief that we’ve changed things, together. The foundation created will see us come back for the New Year with vigour and enthusiasm with even greater opportunities to shine over the next year.

As a group our performance and work output has been growing year on year. I think no matter in which continent you sit in the Reactive group, it would not be difficult to take great pride in our combined achievements. Whether forging new frontiers in NYC, continuing to create ground breaking retail work in the UK, leading the way in NZ or part of the amazing down-under success story, I don’t think it’s too difficult to feel that we’re all part of something bigger.

So for now, I bid you all a well-deserved holiday. Rest well and leave assured in the knowledge that we’re in for an even better 2013!

Happy New Year all!

J

Biz Dev Down Under

Posted: December 12, 2012 in Agency life

I remember when I was handed the reigns to my first Digital Agency years ago – it was probably the last time I felt as nervous and excited as I did. How do you go from the safety of managing internal processes to suddenly having whopping great big $$$ targets dumped on your shoulders … and succeed!?

The weight of Biz Dev was probably the single biggest aspect which, being new to me back then, was an unknown entity. As MD this wasn’t a case of cold calling (hate that term!) but more building and managing relationships with the purse string holders and how to win their trust. So needless to say, a steep learning curve and in some ways one that was recommenced when I moved out to Aus last year given the slight, but not to be ignored nuances in business work ethic out here. So, what have I learnt?

  • People work with People. Perhaps more so than in the UK, people like to know who they are dealing with, before they want to know about the company they are dealing with. A sure way to lose business is rock up to a first meeting with a deck and poor gags to cover the uncomfortable silence when you set up the projector! Be yourself, let it flow.
  • Creds are a drag. Don’t underestimate the combined knowledge your agency has amassed over the years and don’t expect your slick portfolio to be the bees knees – good creative is a dime a dozen. Rather, understand the business problems you / your agency have solved. ROI, conversions, acquisition, creative – whatever it might be. Be clear about the business value you present.
  • Declining an opportunity can be as effective as accepting one. Over the years I’ve pushed the envelope of what my agency can comfortably do … to the detriment of the agency (targets, targets, targets!). The result is almost always poor delivery, poor relationship or poor team morale. Take confidence in what you do do and more importantly what you don’t do. Often this honesty will help nurture longer term relationship which almost always result in a more suitable work coming your way.
  • Be swift, be tolerant. Given the amount of calls I take from recruiters (recruiters take note) the ones I end up working with are those who give me space (I’m referencing all those who pound and keep requesting the inevitably pointless ‘office visit’) and act swiftly when I do turn to them. Act fast by all means, but don’t push – it’s annoying!
  • Let the drinks do the hard work! The sooner you can move from the office to the pub, the better you can get to know who you’re dealing with and what is really important to them. Nothing breaks the ice more and builds trust quicker than getting to know who you’re dealing with and letting them know of the same.
  • Listen, Idiot! If you were a fly on a wall, how do you think you come across? Be aware of yourself and at every point ask yourself – am I listening! The best art of discussion is developing the ability to listen and understand. Talk is cheap, so make sure everything you say has a point and relates to the dialogue at hand. Avoid, at all cost the temptation to say ‘Yeah, that’s great but let me tell you about ‘.
  • Don’t be a one hit wonder. Train your team to think the same when it comes to managing and building relationships. There is nothing more annoying for a client who chooses to work with you and is then met by a lacklustre team who hold very different values.

These are my learnings, would be interested to hear from others out there too!

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]We recently re-pitched to retain an account – not an enjoyable experience, but extremely valuable nonetheless.

It’s bad enough entering a pitch when ‘the favoured incumbent’ is partaking in the process, but it’s far worse when you are the incumbent! Trust me.

I can imagine it’s not a frequently discussed / blogged topic – why would it be. Re-pitching for an existing account doesn’t exactly smack of ‘Oh my God, you guys are so good with your clients’!!!

Before I go onto some of the lessons learnt, the most important thing I suppose, is don’t let things get to that point. Whilst being there doesn’t have to be due to the client being unhappy (business priorities can change, procurement battleaxes get in the way, a new <insert fancy job title here> joins the company etc) it is, I believe, entirely avoidable.

So, don’t kid yourself for a second … you’re there because you took your eye off the ball and whether you like it or not, alignment with your client was lost somewhere along the line. The sooner you can be honest about why you’re there, the quicker you can figure out how to win them back.

First and foremost decide if the client is one that’s worth retaining (are they profitable? are they the right fit? do they add shine to your client list?). If you decide they are, then make sure you leave no room for question. Strong account management, efficient delivery and proactive engagement are all part of the retention game, but not what this blog post is all about (though for what it’s worth – collaborative road-mapping has to be one of the key tools for client retention in my opinion).

So, what to do when you do find yourself in the situation of re-pitching for an existing account!? From my humble recent experience, here are some pointers…

  1. Don’t take anything for granted. You might have the best relationship with your client, but don’t assume their organisation/colleagues feel the same way. Make sure you focus less on what you’ve done and more on what you can do.
  2. Approach the process as you would any valuable new pitch opportunity. Pitches are often a show of an agency’s finest skills – don’t get complacent or lazy because you think the history affords you the right to. Use it as an opportunity to shine.
  3. Leverage your successes, but keep it brief. Being the incumbent is an advantage – so don’t be shy to recap on the successes … there may be people present who were not around for the whole account history. But don’t gloat – you need to win based on your vision, not you (perceived) past successes.
  4. Be honest about you failures and propose solutions. It’s a bit harsh and I’m not suggesting you go in and commit Hari-kiri! But make them believe that you can put right any of the issues that have been encountered over the years.
  5. Be bold. Don’t be shy to create an entire new vision – a complete team shake up, a new working/charging model, a new marketing plan – whatever! Figure out why you’re there, address those issues head on and don’t be scared to jump well outside of your comfort zone.
  6. Most importantly … tell them something new, surprise them! All too often (particulalry with longer standing accounts) clients will have an (outdated) opinion about you and your agency. Use the pitch as a chance to surprise them – create a ‘heck I had no idea you did that’ moment. Make it relevant and impactful.

When all else fails, a brown bag stuffed with cash might be the last resort (luckily, we haven’t had it come to that yet!).

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]

dream

Time to blitz Ebay!!

Well, it is with many mixed emotions that I say goodbye to so much. Many ask what prompts such a move, after all emigrating to Australia with wife and 3 kids on tow is no mean feat. And whilst it didn’t seem quite so drastic just a few weeks ago, the scale of our next chapter is starting to dawn on me, as plans turn into reality. After all, nothing smacks of reality more than packing up your life (and seeing how much crap you’ve accumulated along the way). Yup, it’s been a roller coaster ride with the past few months in particular mixed with hectic handovers, sad goodbyes, planning, planning and yet more planning.

Reflecting back, I’ve enjoyed and even cherished my time at View. There have been highs. Adding BA, Schroders and Beazley to the client list during my last month there has been a great high to end on … and a testament to the degree in which View has changed during my time there – the credit being far from all mine of course. I’ve had the benefit of working with some truly dedicated, professional and above all passionate people at View and have learnt shed loads from them. The clients deserve a mention too as they’re the ones who constantly challenged (you know who you are!) and pushed the agency to the heights that View is comfortable soaring at today.

And if you’re looking for some heartfelt honesty, there have been lows too of course. Managing the business in this recession has been tough. Looking back, I can still find myself bemused at the countless haggling over rate cards, often with procurement departments who don’t know the difference between an Agency and a supplier of loo paper! Or the difficulties of delivering great creative solutions on shoestring (noose!?) budgets. And even the heated, at times irrational, internal discussions (putting it mildly) regarding the agency’s strategy for managing in these times of ‘austerity’.

But in all, if I look back and see that we got through the past 2 years with some of the great wins we have to our name and without making a single redundancy, I think that those who are in the industry will understand the extent of our unsung success.

Reputationally, View is on the map today more than it’s ever been. And in an environment where revenues are harder to secure, I’ve learnt that the value of your reputation, staff and clients alike, should not be underestimated or taken for granted (and certainly shouldn’t be victim to lack of strategic thinking).

So, as I take this hiatus, I bid you goodbye but not farewell. For any of you who wish to stay in touch, I would be only too happy to hear from you. Needless to say, this blog will continue, albeit with a slightly altered twang. Slightly more Australian. Slightly more consumer marketing focussed. And above all, hopefully from the hands of a slightly more tanned MD!

I’ll resume normal updates when I’ve resurfaced down under – take care for now.

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]Life has a funny way of letting you know you’ve been around the block. Part of the joys of growing up is defining and deciding where you stand in life, going through the process of self discovery. Deciding where you stand on key worldly issues, whether global politics, the envioronment or whatever, through debate, argument and heated emotions – that’s growing up.

But part of the fun of being grown up, is recognising that life has a funny way of repeating itself…

Having worked ‘agency-side’ for over a decade now, the cycles of repetition are starting to emerge here too. Whether it’s seeing clients swing from using outsourced to in-house models (and back again!) or agencies rushing to figure out how to turn the latest buzz-word into a service offering. I’m just saying that there are some key themes which tend to repeat and cause the same questions to be asked time and time again.

Will or should the agency model change, is one such question I am often asked, or forced to consider. As channels and consumer demands evolve and diversify will the agency of tomorrow be a different beast to the agency of today? It’s a question we’ve faced increasingly in these economic times too. Should we do it all in-house, or retain only key strategic roles in-house (consultancy) and outsource the design and development work? After all, design and development is now so commoditised. Just take a look at 99designs.com (the EBay of design work) to see what I mean.

For me though, the more I hear this question being asked, the more I am assured it boils down to the type of work you want to produce if you’re an agency or have produced if you’re a client. And, if the answer you aspire to create the best work in the world that engages, communicates and convinces audiences, there is no doubt in my mind that a full service agency is the only way to go. Why…?

Well, it’s not far different to the supermarket’s vs local high street shops debate! In theory clinging on to the fine local shops might make sense (aka niche agencies offering the latest buzz-word as a service), but in practice? Well, let’s just say I know where I end up doing my shopping – irrespective of my ideals (it’s down at Tesco’s in case you’re wondering!).

To the outsourcing advocates I say, you might have an agency business model but how long will it be before you come back to recognise that the only way to produce industry leading work is by creating a rich, thriving environment, where the creative and technical passion oozes from every corner and innovation is part of the fabric. This, I maintain, can only be achieved by cramming as much expertise and talent as you can (find demand for and sell!) under one roof.

Relationship matters

Posted: February 15, 2011 in Agency life
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[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]Yesterday was Valentines Day and I did nothing. In fact, I felt somewhat liberated for ignoring it! I even played football instead and sympathised for some poor shmuck I saw standing at the bus stop with flowers and chocolates in hand (especially because I saw the price at the special ‘valentines day’ stall he got them from just minutes ago).

Anyhow (!) and contrary to what you must be thinking, this post is not about my personal relationship (I wouldn’t suggest you follow my advice on that anyway), it’s about a far more professional one – the client / agency relationship.

So, whether you’re a client side bigwig or funky agency stereotype, how familiar is this scenario…


1. Project scope is defined, cost is formulated.

2. Idea gets approved, cost needs to be reduced, ‘s(h)avings’ begin (see corners!).

3. Shavings are applied, project delivered (perhaps unsurprisingly) with a gaping hole in it.

Notice: the size of the hole is generally proportionate to a) the hit the client / agency relationship takes and b) the overspend required to manage the hole!

I’m sure that some part, if not all of the above, sounds familiar.

The solution? Simple!

4. Instead of focussing on shaving off corners, focus on changing the project approach.

5. So, in fact it’s not about delivering the same for less, it’s about finding a suitable project approach (yes, even if totally different to the original) that works within the budget.

It’s not easy, because it often means abandoning perfectly good ideas, which whilst seemed so good, were only really achievable at the originally proposed cost. Whether it means going back to the drawing board for the agency; or a client having to tell their boss “we had to scrap that idea”, it’s not always easy to do the right thing, but in the interest of the relationship, the only thing to do is rethink the approach.

After all, it’s easy (perhaps easier?) for a client to say “I want the same for the lower cost” or for an account director to say “we’ve got to deliver the original idea at the lower cost“, but, in my humble experience, over a long enough timeline these will both result in problematic relationships.

It seems simple, but it requires foresight, a (shared) understanding that you cannot deliver the same for less; and most importantly, it requires a desire from both sides for the (longer term) relationship to be preserved. And in this climate, with good (stable) agencies on one hand and good clients on the other, becoming harder to find, it is something that everybody should be bearing in mind – because this one can’t be fixed with bunch of flowers!

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]If you’ve got nothing clever to say, then don’t say it. It’s as simple as that and it’s a lesson that ‘Generation Y’ have been living.

For us Generation X’ers, the obsession with the latest and greatest is staggering. We’re hooked! Hooked on each incremental enhancement (2.0, 3.0, 3G or 4G), every minor upgrade and don’t even mention the beta’s! Every tweet and every post. Every device and any technology. Give it to us, we’ll lap it up! We’re hooked – fascinated by each and every new way of receiving our hourly hit/bit of irrelevance.

I’m not in a rambling mood, I’ve just come to understand that for those that grew up without all this, we are now inherintly obsessed with the of realms of what is today possible and what ‘great’ life enhancing upgrade looms around the corner.

Generation Y on the other hand have grown up with disposable media culture being part of their fabric. Does this make them different? They’ve had Facebook accounts since they were 14 (even watched the movie!), have been accessing mobile content since owning their first mobile phone and been subject to corporate blogging & microblogging since they fell into the marketing brackets. They’ve grown up obliviously ignorant of Generation X standing beside them oogling and fascinated by what is essentially, to them, a mundane reality of life.

Many are predicting that Generation Y will succumb to a stereotype (lazy and blaming others for their failures). And, as a father to three kids, it  gives me good cause for concern as I hope they don’t end up, case in point, turning to the internet to solve their problems – like how to defy the Generation Y stereotype!

But my experience (and hopes) with Generation Y here at work is more positive –  I see them rebelling against the (shallow) fragmentation of information thrust upon them. Questioning more ‘why should I trust this just because it’s written?’ and indeed at times they seem more industrious and inquisitive than some of us bedazzled Generation X’ers!

[tweetmeme source= “jsnrss” only_single=false]We’re not a huge corporate outfit, we are a modestly sized, (highly ambitious) agency. It’s been a tough old slog to get this far and the difficult past year has proven to be a real b**ch on our plans for growth. We have though come a long way and have only recruited throughout the recession, so we must be doing something right – but what interests me, are the things which we’re not!

With the difficult economic landscape in the past year or two, we’ve looked much closer at how we do things (I’m sure we’re not alone). And for us, that’s not terribly difficult to do – in many ways, the recession makes mistakes glare that much more obviously. When times are good, mistakes are easily masked. When revenue and profits are strong, lost opportunities and poor management can get hidden in successes.

For me, one of the thing that stands as being ‘masked’ at our company is – honesty (or the lack thereof).

I’m talking about colleagues not being (constructively) critical of what they expect of each other. In a company of our size, you often find yourself making a client commitment and depend on someone else to help deliver it. When this breaks down and we fail on a commitments, you’ll often hear polite dialogues along the lines of:

Will you be able to get this to the client today, as promised?

Not sure mate, I’m so stacked up with X and Y and Z – I’ll do my best, but it might spill over to tomorrow … is that all-right?
(cue – sympathetic looks!)

Hmmm, not great but OK … I’ll get in touch with the client and let them know we’ve encountered an issue (cue – inner thoughts along the lines of ‘Hmmm, I explained this was urgent yesterday!’)

STOP!!! This is exactly where honesty would have served us all a lot better. It’s not “OK”, it should be:

We committed and
I don’t want to reverse this with the client. Tell me, how can we deliver this today??.

It’s not about being a pain, unfairly demanding or unrealistic. It’s about colleagues feeling free to be openly vocal about their expectations for what they need from each other, to allow them to their jobs effectively. It’s about colleagues helping each other to do better, by demanding more of each other. There is nothing wrong to openly expect (demand) accountability.

Honesty (if presented in the right way) may sting in the short term, but will surely result in clearer expectations all round. And (as a whole) should allow everyone to grow and improve at their game.

Instead of creating a new ‘Director of Honesty’ position  I think I’ll simply start asking people to stop and ask themselves…  “Have you been honest with your fellow colleague today?”.