In theory, tech startups and marketing agencies should be an ideal match. With their complementary blend of ideas and inventiveness, creativity and capital, it’s easy to see why such partnerships are proving increasingly attractive to so many in the marketing business.
Yet all too often, that initial promise of mutually beneficial collaboration turns to grumblings of exploitation, or one or both parties left feeling unfulfilled.
So what’s the secret to successful relations between agencies and startups? According to Rose Lewis, founder of the accelerator Collider, agencies need to exercise more patience and startups ought to temper their expectations.
“I think number one [for agencies] is you need a senior buy-in commitment… because working with startups is hard,” Lewis told The Drum at DigitasLBi’s What’s Next in Media event.
“You’re not going to get results straight away, you are going to have to practice, so that means there needs to be a commitment from a long term perspective to make that work.
“The biggest attraction that agencies can offer startups is – and this is perception – they think the agency is going to open their doors to all of their clients. So that’s why a startup is interested in working with agencies. They think ‘one sale, I get 20 clients’.
“That, of course, doesn’t always come to pass and you’ve got to have the right client with the right budget who is also committed to innovation and new technology, so I think the perception is somewhat misguided. I still think agencies can add enormous amounts of value to a startup, but I think they need to manage their expectations.”
The appeal of working with startups is only likely to increase for agencies if they share Lewis’s assessment of the current health of the UK tech industry.
“London’s ecosystem around tech is amazing at the moment. We have certainly built enormous amounts of credibility, certainly in Europe, but actually we’re now standing globally, particularly in fintech,” she said.
Asked if the UK could unearth a tech giant on the scale of Facebook, Lewis said: “There’s no reason why we shouldn’t. Mark Zuckerberg has an amazing vision – I think that’s what we need.
"And there’s now evidence – Skyscanner was grown here, in Edinburgh, and you’ve got TransferWise in the fintech space. They are billion dollar companies, so we can do it.”
You can hear more on the UK’s startup scene, and how agencies can build deeper relationships with tech companies, in our video interview with Lewis above.