Why creative agencies should be all ears

by AngelaLaw

As part of our proven process for defining a creative agency value proposition, (answering the question ‘why would your ideal client choose you over the competition?) we get insight from their clients.

So every year, across a range of different creative agencies, we speak to at least 60 to 80 clients.

It never fails to be fascinating and enlightening.

We have a number of objectives when we speak to these clients.
There are a few obvious hygiene questions to do with quality of service, strengths and weaknesses.
More importantly, we are trying to get an idea of how the client thinks the agency adds value and what the client is really buying when they buy from that agency. Very often this perspective is very different from what the creative agency thinks the client values and why they are chosen over the competition.

But above all, we are trying to get to the holy grail of account management and uncover unmet needs: what are the pains the client is experiencing and the gains they need? What keeps them up at night? What are the challenges facing their organisation, or the challenges facing them in their roles? Plus a couple of other key question areas which you will understand if I don’t include here.

The research is written up verbatim, not as bullet point, notes or on a quantitative scale: what we are looking for here is the potential for what Treacy and Wiersma call (The Discipline of Market Leaders: Choose Your Customers, Narrow Your Focus, Dominate Your Market) ‘customer intimacy’ and it is best if it comes straight from the horse’s mouth.

The reaction of creative agencies to their research varies. One this year described it as ‘a revelation’ another as ‘an eye-opener’ and another as: ‘at once the scariest and most fascinating document I have ever read’.

This deep dive isn’t something that you can repeat too often with the same clients.But the fact that when we do it is such a revelation speaks to a larger problem within the creative services sector and especially of the video, branded content, live event and communication agencies that we tend to work with.

The majority of these creative agencies do not engage with their clients unless they are actively working on a job for that client and are in ‘delivery’ mode.

This is crazy.

Most creative agencies not on a retainer rely on a consistent 70% – 80% of repeat business every year. Those that don’t, and where the turnover of clients is greater, tend to have less predictable and less profitable businesses and suffer accordingly. And, of course, following the 80 /20 rule then the profitability of the agency tends to rest in even fewer of those clients.

If video, branded content, live event and communication agencies put the same effort, time, creativity, resource and sheer blood, sweat and tears into understanding and supporting existing clients as they do in trying to win new business they could find their businesses transformed. Not just because their relationship and service with their existing clients would be so much deeper and more relevant, not just because the insight is likely to lead to co-created solutions which therefore means it is harder for the agency to be replaced or replicated by a competitor; but also because the insight and experience gained with existing clients can invariably create a highly attractive and more competitive offer to prospects with similar needs, wants and outcomes. ‘Customer intimacy’ with your clients is a win-win for your creative business.

One last thing. Very many of the clients we speak to every year tell us that they want to hear more – and more often – from their creative agencies. Clients need to keep ahead, they need to be seen as innovators and solution providers; they rely upon their creative agencies to keep abreast of trends, to understand what is new or good practice and how or whether an innovation in thought, practice or technology can be applied to them and their business. It is in the best interest of the creative agency to make the running in this – if you do more to listen to your clients, act on their needs and provide insight – you will find your business the better for it. Cheers, big ears.

Is the forecast sunny for your production company or agency?

by AngelaLaw

Or are you battling under what feels like a persistent low and storm clouds? The weather may be hard to predict, but we can predict all too confidently that, without a clear, differentiated value proposition your creative agency will have turbulent times. Check out the short-term forecast. Do any of these situations sound familiar…

  1. You want to update your website but don’t know what to say
  2. You invested in a sales person. They put in plenty of time and effort but generated negligible  revenue
  3. You get lots of nice credentials meetings – but they don’t turn into work
  4. A long-term client gives the major project you were expecting to another agency
  5. You slash budgets but others get the work
  6. Work you would have previously subcontracted is now kept in-house to reduce costs
  7. You are glad to do minor projects you would have turned down 5 years ago
  8. Clients don’t want to invest time in discussing a brief – they just want a price
  9. Clients don’t appreciate your depth of experience and what you bring to a brief
  10. Margins have tumbled
  11. You are not sure your staff have the right skills (and you are not sure what skills they should have)
  12. You have no idea what your agency will look like in 3 years’ time

A value proposition answers the question: ‘why would your ideal client choose you over the competition?’ It is an essential part of any creative agency’s strategy.  At Every Sense we live and breathe value proposition development for creative agencies and production companies.  Our process is practical, insightful, collaborative and above all, effective. Develop your value proposition, regain control and direction and bring on sunny times!

Help your production company take a leap forward on leap day

by AngelaLaw

What to do with that leap day?
Here’s an idea – help your production company or agency to take a leap forward.
In the daily hurly burly it’s easy to lose sight of your ambitions. You can spend years putting one foot in front of another in a competent way. The problem is that it’s easy to do that without making a tangible difference to anything – your clients, your own people, and the wider public – or to the scale, success or reputation of your business. Then one day you wake up to discover new competitors have passed you by, the market has moved on and you are, frankly, no longer relevant. So, this leap day, set aside the daily hygiene of running your business and consider how you can take a leap forward.
Take a leap 1
Imagine it is leap day 2020 (yes that day will come …) Look back at what you have achieved in the past 4 years. Write a list of everything your agency has achieved in the 4 years. Make the achievements as specific and tangible as possible. Now get your key team to do the same. Share the lists; agree the top 5 priorities and create a plan to achieve each one.
Take a leap 2
Are you clear about what you want to achieve? Think about the original ambition you had for your agency? To what extent have you delivered on that ambition? Are you happy to let that ambition go or would it be helpful to review that ambition and work out how you can still get there? Ask yourself and your team: ‘what do we want to be famous for?’ That’s a definition of a vision right there. If you have a vision of what you want to achieve then at least you have a fighting chance of making it happen.

Take a leap 3
Are you really important to your key clients and their success? Do you really add value? Do you know what the key challenges are in their business and how you could help solve them? Or are you just another dispensable supplier? Understanding how you really add value to your clients’ business is vital. Understanding what their future challenges are and how you might be able to help solve them is a crucial step further.
So do a thorough review of those key clients. Ask yourself the big questions about each. And then, more important, ask your clients. A qualitative survey is great way of finding out how you really add value to your clients’ business and what their challenges are (and yes we can help you with that.) Round tables, seminars and workshops where you help clients share peer to peer experiences or explore some blue sky thinking are other great ways to uncover those unmet needs. Helping your clients take a leap forward will help you do the same.
Take a leap 4
Make the development and ambition of your agency your number one priority. That is your job. Create a war room dedicated to setting out those ambitions and plans and delivering on them. Make it a visual, tactile, inspiring place. Set out the journey you want to make. Involve your team in co-creating that journey. Make this space the place where you work with your team to hit and review those priorities. Allow this space to be the place where people come to add their suggestions and ideas. You are creative people – unleash those collective creative brains on your own agency development.
Take a leap 5
Focus. Most creative agencies and production companies want to do work that really matters, work that really makes a difference; work that has not been done or seen before. What they don’t appreciate is that the best, most effective, most creative, most impactful work comes from insight – from really understanding the needs and challenges of a specific sector, a specific target audience, a specific business challenge. Research by, for example, Kingston Smith demonstrates that agencies which have a clear value proposition are more profitable and successful. So focus. Create a value proposition which makes it clear why your ideal client would choose you over the competition, and you will have a much better chance of taking that leap.

Show the love in your agency this Valentine’s Day

by AngelaLaw

Valentine’s Day this weekend…you may be planning to show appreciation for the personal love in your life. But how can showing the love at work affect the success of your creative agency or production company?

Show the love for your team

If you show appreciation for your team and their work they are far more likely to develop positive behaviours with everyone around them. Clarity, consistency, appreciation and role-modelling are the cornerstones of developing a positive culture in your agency.

Showing the love starts with recruiting based on a clear job description and understanding the knowledge, skills and aptitude required. People want to be stretched and to learn – they don’t want to be hopelessly exposed and hung out to dry.

Showing the love means being the role model for the behaviours you value. Want people to work hard and go the extra mile? You do too.  Want people to really listen to clients and ask questions before leaping to judgement? They have to learn that somewhere. Want people to feel they can take risks, creative or otherwise (as you undoubtedly did) without being shot? Then they need to feel the boundaries are clear and that they will be supported.

Showing the love means supporting the aspirations of your people. Those aspirations are often more complex and interesting than status and earnings. A personal development plan for each team member linked to your strategic objectives is the Valentine gift that will keep on giving.

Toxic cultures are those where people are micro-managed, un-supported, criticised and unappreciated. The occasional wad of cash or boozy night out won’t make up for the times that your team felt stressed, confused and unappreciated.  The link between positive employment practices and performance is well-known among larger enterprises; far less appreciated in smaller creative service agencies. If you don’t show the love then sooner or later your talented people will be wooed elsewhere; potentially taking clients with them. As your agency grows then showing the love by tying-in key people through a share of ownership will pay dividends in more ways than one.

Show the love for freelancers and suppliers

High quality freelancers and suppliers are essential for the smooth running and scale-ability of many production companies or agencies. Negotiate fairly on rates. Don’t beat down their rate with a promise of future work that never materialises. Don’t make a commitment to delivering to a client without consulting their diary first. Be clear what the extent of the job is, what the lines of communication are and who is responsible for what.  Pay on time.  If you find that the most talented freelancers become mysteriously unavailable when you need them its a sure sign they are not feeling it with you. If you are paranoid about freelancers developing a better relationship with the client than you it means you are not sure where you are adding value to that client and what your value proposition is.

You know those recommendations and referrals you love? Freelancers, suppliers and partners can be a great source of recommendations; so treat them well and that love will be repaid.

Show the love for clients

Some people might say that surely showing the love for clients should be an agency’s first priority? This may be the case in a start-up where you are still on the front line of delivering and satisfying clients. However if your production company or agency is to grow and have any scale then your team has to deliver  –  which is why I have put showing the love for your team first.

But of course showing the love for clients is essential. Good relationships are based on mutual need and respect. A master / slave relationship where the client pulls all the strings is a source of resentment and cynicism in creative agencies which can then have a corrosive effect on the way the agency treats its own people. If this sounds like you, then you need to dig deeper to develop a more useful value proposition that clients – potentially a different set of clients – will appreciate and respect.

Alternatively, the equivalent of a ‘Dear John’ situation where you explain why the relationship with a client no longer works for you can have a magical effect. The client may realise what they really do appreciate about your agency (often the insight into their organisation or brand and the time-saving or mitigation of risk this provides) and be prepared to discuss and change the specifics of how you work together.

Great account development means consistently being interested in your clients’ needs, challenges, business objectives and personal ambitions rather than seeing the client as the source of the next cash injection. Put simply, few clients want to be treated like a sugar daddy or a one night stand. Be in it for the long term – and watch your insight grow, your agency flourish and those recommendations and referrals keep coming.

Show the love for procurement

I know. Procurement people may seem like the relative in the room from that odd bit of the family that no-one wants to talk to, or the profile destined never to be swiped. But get involved, show interest, ask questions, be open-minded, understand the needs and perspectives of procurement people and you will find the conversation a lot more interesting and useful than you anticipated.

Anthropologists reckon that love developed as a form of enlightened self-interest.  At heart, that comes down to treating everyone as you would like to be treated. In the daily hurly-burly of running a creative agency that principle can be forgotten. I am sure you have lots of your own ideas about how showing the love can lead to positive developments for your creative agency.  This Valentine’s Day get enlightened, show the love and sooner or later there will be hugs all round.

13 things I have learnt supporting creative agencies

by AngelaLaw

Thanks to all those who have congratulated us on 13 years of Every Sense. So what, if anything, have I learnt in 13 years of helping creative agencies to grow, prosper and achieve their potential…? Here are just 13 thoughts.
1. A vision, a plan and some targets means you know where you are going
2. A vision, a plan and some targets means you know when you have got there
3. That creativity is driven by insight and insight is driven by curiosity
4. That team Workshops work because ‘none of us is as smart as all of us’
5. That every creative agency needs a value proposition
6. That effective account management and development is the secret weapon most agencies ignore
7. That the more agencies listen to clients and the better they understand the needs of the target audience, the better the solution will be
8. That many agencies don’t know what their clients are really buying when they buy from them (and that it helps to find out…)
9. That profitability gives you choices
10. That clients choose trust over creativity
11. That ‘tell me’ is a great start to a conversation
12. That there are few things more satisfying than seeing young creative talent develop and fly
13. That enthusiasm and generosity are contagious

Here’s to the next 13!

Six myths about adopting a niche

by P_Wrigglesworth

We often recommend finding a niche or developing a specialism to our creative sector clients – typically digital media, design, film & video and live event production companies of under £10m turnover. And the concept of a niche or specialism is often greeted with dismay and misunderstanding. This blog dispels six myths about developing a niche or specialism.

Film and video production companies used to be able to sell themselves on their ability to use the technology and kit. Now, as predicted back in 2010 in our Every Sense Guide: User Generated Video – Threat or Opportunity, everyone is a producer. And, regardless of how excellent you may think your film and video work is, it is genuinely hard for clients to see the difference between one company’s output and the next. Claiming to be ‘more creative’ is rarely a credible point of differentiation.

Myth 1 – Adopting a niche means focussing on one sector

A niche doesn’t have to be sector-based. A niche or specialism can be based on the purpose i.e. the value / or outcome of what you do for your clients rather than a sector. Ask: ‘Where are we expert?’ ‘Where are we specialist? ‘What kind of work do we consistently win over the competition?’ ‘Where do we make the most margin?’ Look at the trends in the type of work where you are most profitable.

Myth 2 – Adopting a niche means turning away some existing clients

If an existing client comes to you, cash in hand, asking you to do work outside your niche or specialism and you can it, then, of course you will be delighted deliver for them. But continuing to service existing clients outside your specialism is not the same as investing money or time on prospecting or pitching where you have no differentiation or added value and are unlikely to win the work or make money on it when you do.

Myth 3 – Adopting a niche limits our potential

Finding a niche enables you to develop strength in depth. Creative agencies often follow the Value Discipline of Customer Intimacy (even if they don’t know it!) This strategy is defined as ‘tailoring products to fit the specific needs of market segments, where companies compete on superior service and satisfying wants rather than low prices’. Put simply, Customer Intimacy is driven by insight . . . and you can’t have insight about everything. The more insight you have in your niche or specialism, the more likely you are to be able develop new services and added value services and this will fuel profitable growth. No limits here!

Myth 4 – Adopting a niche will upset our clients who like us to be generalists

We talk to about 100 clients a year through the qualitative client surveys we conduct for creative company clients. When asked how their creative agency adds value the reply is most often that the creative agency ‘gets us’ or ‘they understand us.’ That presents a challenge for new agencies to demonstrate how they add value from a standing start as you won’t ‘know’ the client. But, as a specialist you can approach targeted relevant clients and demonstrate real added value from your existing track record, insight and approach. With the increasing influence of procurement in buying decisions, procurement is asking their internal clients to justify their choice of agency – especially if they are not the cheapest. Check out our Every Sense Procurement Guide for the IVCA for more insight about what clients and procurement departments are looking for and why being a specialist can differentiate you and enable you to charge a premium price.

Myth 5 – Adopting a niche is high risk

Adopting a niche reduces risk and provides focus. Having a niche or specialism means your marketing and sales process is infinitely easier and more cost effective. You to know who to target, who to talk to, what industry events to attend, what expertise, skills and thought-leadership to develop, what skills and knowledge to nurture in-house, what skills to recruit – the list of advantages is endless.

And even if you are a sector specialist and that sector experiences a down-turn, your expertise and insight puts you in much better place to continue to serve that market-place.

As a generalist you will always be stuck in the dog-fights, battling to show added-value and fighting for margin. You don’t get higher risk than that.

Myth 6 – Adopting a niche is boring

Creative agencies don’t say this – but it might be what they mean! Creative agencies are run by creative people who like the challenge of ‘the next stimulating thing.’ Perhaps the word ‘niche’ itself sounds small and dark. Next time you are struggling with the concept of niche try asking instead: ‘where are we specialist?’ ‘Where are we expert?’
Our experience and research shows that creative agencies which adopt a niche or specialism can target their marketing, improve effectiveness, give greater added-value, develop and retain their people, diversify, grow and increase profitability. Does that sound boring to you?

Making the Most of Winning Awards

by P_Wrigglesworth

Winning awards is important for creative agencies. It demonstrates to prospects that your work has been independently verified by the industry and your peer group as being of the highest quality. It helps attract and retain the best talent. And winning a creative award can be great for existing client relationships too. But all too often, once the champagne has been drunk and the misdemeanours on the dance floor forgotten, creative companies fail to make commercial capital out of winning creative awards – when it’s an ideal opportunity to raise your profile and communicate your added value to all your clients and prospects.

So if you are considering whether to invest in entering an award scheme, you have been nominated, or won an award, check out this advice on how to maximise the return on investment on entering and winning creative awards. ( http://www.everysense.co.uk/guides )

And make the most of those hard won creative awards…