How do the most successful agencies achieve that success?

When I interviewed 21 of the most profitable agencies in the UK we identified specific actions they were taking that others weren’t. The research was carried out a few years ago and the lessons are still just as valid, some even more so. As I specialise in working with agencies I see the same mistakes continuing to be made and on the flip side the same winning strategies leading to a downward or upward spiral respectively.

Here are my updated 10 tips to grow the success and profitability of your agency.

  1. It all starts with the right client relationship. And that starts on Day1 not 6 months in. The right relationship is with senior decision makers not ‘messengers’ who lack authority and budget approval. The relationship is based on your expertise and value rather than simply your hourly or daily rate. Trust is a crucial aspect of the best client-agency relationships.
  2. The culture of the senior team is critical. Culture is about how courageous and brave the senior team are, with no excuses. The most successful agency culture is commercially savvy. That culture then cascades to the rest of the agency.
  3. How clearly does your client value your impact on their business? How well can you articulate that value? How well differentiated is your proposition or do you sound like every other agency? How compelling is your answer to the client question, “What’s special about your agency?”
  4. An air of confidence is important, based on your value not BS arrogance. Brilliant work and lack of over-dependence on any one client reinforces that self-belief. Your mindset, understanding of your value and impact and the right client-agency relationship will reinforce that confidence.
  5. Your people make the difference. If they believe in what you believe in they will deliver exceptional work. If they don’t believe in what you believe in they will just work for your money. We do much better work when it’s not just for money. Recruit and retain wisely. Recruit for attitude. Recognise and praise great performance.
  6. Great agency people produce brilliant work and are commercially astute. Relying on ‘brilliant work’ though is not enough. One of my workshops for agencies is designed to develop the right behaviours to grow profitability and commerciality.
  7. Know your business numbers. The methods to track the numbers should be simple and accurate. If time sheet numbers are fiction then don’t waste your time studying them.
  8. “The average brief is below average”. When you accept a poor brief, (ie verbal, poorly thought through, given by a junior, lacking a budget etc) you have only yourself to blame when you find you’ve wasted time and resource. If you are unable or unwilling to have an honest business conversation with clients about an inadequate budget or unrealistic targets then you’ve only got yourself to blame.
  9. Resource management is critical for agencies. With ‘people’ the most expensive overhead in the running of an agency, if you don’t deploy resource effectively you are wasting your most valuable ‘fuel’.
  10. If agency senior management are too busy in the business and not finding time to think and plan the agency’s future direction that direction will be left to chance. Find time to work on the business, not just in the business.

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  • Mike White | 19 November 2019

    Great article and rings very true.

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