Carl Hopkins

Carl Hopkins - Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum, Administrator

January 10, 2008 | 7 min read

Problems Solved

Dear Uncle Carl,

The biggest debate at our boardroom meetings is whether we should move out of our city centre offices for more idyllic, out-of-town, premises. I’m concerned about what it might do to staff morale and the agency’s culture. What do you think we should do?

Having had the experience of moving an agency I can tell you it’s all a balance between many things.

What are the long-term costs to the business of staying or moving? Are you renting now and moving to buy (get it in the pension fund!)? Is there a need for your business to be in the city centre – for example, would it be easier for clients, suppliers and staff to reach you? What are your future plans for expansion? Is your current building big enough or restricting your growth? How will your country idyll affect future staff recruitment and retention? It may seem a nice idea in the short-term and you may get positive feedback from staff who consider the move as a big agency adventure - but in the long-term, you may lose staff as they cannot simply pop out at lunch time to sort out their shopping, dry cleaning, holidays etc.

When I moved my agency into Leeds city centre the first thing I did was find out what the staff thought. While I knew I might lose some people, I had to accept that some of my staff worked with me only because it suited their lifestyle. I plotted everyone’s address on a map around the new agency location and then put together an intro pack for each member of staff, highlighting the bus and train routes as well as the local ‘amenities’. We even secured discounts in local shops for our staff.

So, when you move, make sure it’s right for the long term success of your business, involve your teams as much as possible get them excited and positive about the move and then prepare for the fall out! Good Luck.

Dear Uncle Carl,

I really enjoyed last month’s Dear Carl feature, but what I really want to know is, how do you do that thing with your eyebrows?

Thank you for noticing. It’s a fine blend of strategic plucking for dramatic effect plus absolute adherence to the Roger Moore School of acting and hours in front of a mirror practicing. I do a killer ‘Elvis lip’ too.

Dear Uncle Carl,

Do you put much stock in additional job benefits, such as duvet days, team-bonding excursions and the likes?

On reading your question, I instantly felt my insides churn, I can feel the veins in my temples throb and as I type I can hear my teeth grind.

Which lazy f****r came up with ‘duvet days’? Why not go the whole hog and take ‘dole days’? Just sign on and get the f**k out of work as they obviously don’t want to be there!

There has been a surge in ‘additional benefits’; duvet days, birthday days, flexi time, etc. All of which mean the person taking advantage of the ‘benefit’ is out of the office. Where is the benefit for you, the employer? Paying people to stay away, how does that work?

I don’t even like ‘casual days’. Jeez, if some of my staff had come in any more casual they would have been shuffling around in slippers and dressing gowns. It would have been like a scene from ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’!

Businesses seem to be losing the work ethic and discipline - a dangerous route to go down. Additional benefits become the ‘norm’ and then become expected and then you are screwed as you will have to invent some new ones - Marshmallow Tuesdays, Back Rub Wednesdays, Hand Job Fridays.. God knows where it will end.

Let me let you into a secret: the reason you pay people is because they would not do the job for free, so the only reason they really work is to get paid and therefore the only real ‘AB’ is not ‘additional benefit’ but ‘additional bunce’ – i.e. more money. Call it ‘duvet dosh’ or ‘casual cash’ and it’s guaranteed they will happily accept it.

As for team bonding, if you have a group of people who you feel need to work together better as a team, then I would question whether making them give up their time to paintball each other or climb over assault courses with their hands bound really works.

Giving them the time, money and reason to celebrate and socialize together as ‘normal’ colleagues who spend their days achieving common goals in a friendly supportive rewarding environment seems to go a lot further.

Dear Uncle Carl,

How do I grow my agency without losing the small, family-run business culture?

Erm, you can’t, not in my experience. I do not know of any large agency or client of one who ever said: “You know the best thing about this agency is that it feels like a family business”. I think your question is laced with contradictions and a realization that you know you will obviously lose the ‘family run’ feel as it grows into double figures of staff. So the important thing is you have to identify what you as the owner feel is important for the ‘culture’ of the environment you create and make sure you champion those traits. Alternatively perhaps you do not really want to run a ‘big’ agency – you don’t have to.

Dear Uncle Carl,

We recently got burnt by a client that cancelled its (un-paid) pitch at the eleventh hour, after we’d put in a lot of work. It’s not the first time this has happened. Are there any tell-tale signs we should be keeping an eye out for, to avoid time-wasting clients in the future?

Bastards. I doubt it will be the last time either. I know a lot of discussion takes place within our various trade bodies over educating clients of the opportunity costs that agencies suffer when preparing for pitches. And there is always talk of submitting some nominal fee to make clients think twice before calling some half-arsed pitch. Sadly we all let ourselves down as there are always going to be agencies who will pitch for nothing.

Perhaps we should all set up a ‘name and shame’ site, so when we are asked to pitch we can go there and check on the track record of the company or usually the individual. I also think if agencies spoke to each other more openly about their experiences then we would be able to sift out the time-wasters.

But in the meantime, during the pitch process look out for: A proper written brief; Involvement at a high level from the prospect; Ask for who else is pitching; Ask when they last pitched and who won; Ask how long the prospect contact has been at the company; And stay in touch with the prospect throughout the process, not just at the brief but also on the pitch day.

If you have a question that you would like to put to Uncle Carl, email

Carl Hopkins

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