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Carl Hopkins Feature England

Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum | Administrator

March 6, 2008 | 7 min read

The Drum's very own Uncle Carl answers your questions

Dear Uncle Carl,

As freelancers, my creative partner and I have enjoyed not having the responsibilities that come with working in an agency. However, demand for our work has grown significantly and we’re now considering taking on our first employee. Is there any advice you can give us on the practicalities of being an employer and the management skills required for being ‘the boss’?

Scary isn’t it! Congratulations on the success. I would hope that simply by taking on a third person you don’t have to suddenly read every management book available. My advice is to be very, very clear on what you want from this new person. You can only do this if you understand what is keeping you busy – is it new business, is it ‘doing’ the job, or is it the cleaning up afterwards? This will help you decide what their role is and how they will fit into your team.

Although it’s only one person it is a third of your company! That’s a huge impact. The other issue will be managing the new person’s expectations – are they just after a job? Are they after buying into an opportunity to build something? Or are the three of you happy to create some sort of no rules creative cooperative. Be clear on your ethos and objectives from day one.

Dear Uncle Carl,

The marketing director of our biggest client has moved jobs and the new guy has announced that he will be reviewing all communications suppliers. If it goes, we could be forced to make a few redundancies. I realise there’s no good way to tell someone they no longer have a job, but is there an approach you can recommend to make it easier?

I wonder how many agency staff are reading this and assuming they work for you? This situation happens with tedious regularity. It seems the best way a new marketing chappy can make an immediate difference while feeling like he actually is quite important is to call a full agency review. But this simply puts the main business on hold and makes all the previously hardworking and loyal supplier-partners somewhat nervous and realise there is no client/agency loyalty at all. Sounds like you are already resigned to losing the account. Regarding the redundancies, there is no easy way – you are talking about people’s livelihoods here. Your staff are not stupid, start talking to them about the situation and you won’t have to mention the ‘r’ word. Let them know right now that you feel there is a threat on the account and hopefully in the meantime they can re-double their efforts. Also, someone might be toying with leaving you anyway, so it opens the door for them!

Regarding the client, meet the new guy and make sure you have the right kind of account handlers on the account. Think of it as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship while being aware it could be a major threat. Meanwhile get yourself a good HR person and kick your new business chaps up the arse!

Remember it’s not the end of the world, take it from me. I recall one afternoon ‘I’ was fired from a million pound account, I left the building to find my Porsche wouldn’t start and while waiting for the truck to drag me away I was propositioned by a lady of the night old enough to be my mother!

Dear Uncle Carl,

We’re a Nottingham-based agency that has been prospecting a number of clients based in and around London. Do you think opening a satellite office in London would help our cause?

No. Blunt response I know but I have yet to see it work effectively. I can think of several that have tried. If your ‘satellite’ office is a P.O. box, a rented office with a desk and phone, then what’s the point? You are fooling no one. If you want a place in London to meet, then join the IOD. If you want to meet them in an ‘agency’ environment then perhaps form a partnership with a data company or some other complimentary offering.

If you start a satellite office and actually employ people then there is a chance you will not have a satellite but a second agency and then you need appropriate team structures, account handling, a creative person, more overheads, the list and problems go on.

Make sure your prospects and clients are right for your agency’s offering and that they are choosing you for your work and your people and not your postcode.

Dear Uncle Carl,

How far is too far when it comes to flirting at work?

Ah! Now there is a question. Who am I to offer opinion on such a sensitive subject? Well, I have been propositioned by staff and clients and have also had a ‘love affair’ with a member of staff – now my wife! I’m no marriage guidance councilor or love rat, come to that, but if you are both in relationships then pack it in, it will all end in tears. If you think it won’t damage your working relationship, then you are wrong. Treat flirting like football – both should be non-contact sports! Check out the article on page 20 regarding working relationships, you will hear more from Uncle Carl there.

Dear Uncle Carl,

What do you make of this TUPE situation? Should we all be fighting against it?

I started to read about this ridiculous idea some years ago. At the time I was running an agency and winning business and it worried me. I hoped, and thought, it was some jumped up minister’s idea to get himself noticed and it would all blow over. The fact is, it is still ‘on the agenda’ and it has recently been announced there is no reason why our industry would be exempt, which is deeply worrying.

It is my experience that agencies win business on creative and lose business on service. So when a client moves to their new agency, why on earth would the clients, the new agency or even the old agency want the people to move? Or why should the new agency pay the redundancy settlements because the incumbent agency simply wasn’t up to the task?

Dear Uncle Carl,

Can London creatives cut it in the north?

Nice twist on the old question of ‘can northern creatives cut it down south?’. The first question should be ‘can London creatives FIND the north!’ Some of my old creatives struggled to find their socks never mind a different part of the world. I have been fortunate enough to work with lots of clever creative chappies and there is no reason at all why they can’t ‘cut it’.

Where I have found a problem, regardless of their place of birth, is when you employ a ‘brand’ creative and want them to do ‘dm’ creative.

If you start to win clients from the village of London then due to TUPE you may have to make up the spare room for all the staff you will be forced to inherit who couldn’t ‘cut it’ in their southern homes!

Troubled? send your questions for the drum’s agony uncle to Or, If you wish to meet with Carl to talk about your business, then email him on

Carl Hopkins Feature England

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