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Carl Hopkins

Agency Agony Uncle

By The Drum, Administrator

March 20, 2008 | 6 min read

The Drum's very own Uncle Carl answers your questions

Dear Uncle Carl,

Is an ‘agency restructure’ ever a good sign?

It doesn’t have to be a bad sign. There are always going to be winners and losers I guess. You need to know why there is a restructure in the first place then judge your place within the current structure and how you might fair after the ‘re’!

It is reassuring to know that you work for an agency that actually has a ‘structure’ that needs a ‘re’.

Dear Uncle Carl,

We run a growing agency that offers a near full range of services. In fact, aside from media buying, our only other main skills gap is in digital. Should we invest in a digital team or is it possible for an offline agency to be successful in the modern world?

First of all, I doubt you really run an agency where your only skill gap is digital - but if you believe that then more strength to you. Also you don’t do media , which I assume means channel planning as well as channel buying, monitoring and measuring, so let’s gloss over that in your near full service mix!

I can’t tell you whether you should invest in a digi-team or not - that’s down to your revenue and opportunity streams. If your clients are begging for it and you can hire the staff, then knock yourself out and get aboard the financial runaway train that is a digital department.

Of course, you can ‘snub’ the digital tidal wave all around you Canute-like, and pretend it isn’t there, as you are doing with ‘media’ it seems, but you will have to stop calling yourself ‘full service’ as you obviously are not. But, as you do offer a range of other services you cannot then call yourself a specialist/boutique agency either, so you fall between a mouse and a hard place. You are not full service, you are not specialist... you are ‘vanilla’. But perhaps you can focus on clients who don’t want a specialist service and don’t want a fully integrated offering and just sell them what you’re good at and ignore what might be best for their business.... Just like so many other agencies, and they do okay- whether their clients do okay is another matter - so good luck with that.

Dear Uncle Carl,

How important is corporate hospitality to clients?

It’s a perfectly acceptable retention tool, it’s just a pain in the arse to organise and fund! But now that more and more clients are under pressure to adhere to some corporate/social/procurement issued edict, it can actually be very difficult for them to accept what might be construed as a personal bribe! Which is all it is, isn’t it?

Is your relationship with a client or understanding of their business going to improve simply because you are drinking Pimms together 200 miles away from your agency while watching rowers/football players/horses do their thing, as you view from your box/marquee/VIP area (delete as necessary) - I think not. But, it does bind individuals together, albeit briefly, and does differentiate you from the poor little agency who cannot afford such glamorous client distraction.

And then you have to consider the staff, who seem to forget that although it’s a ‘party’, it’s still work. I recall one instance at a riverside party where one of my staff got so pissed he ‘fell asleep’ behind the toilet doors so no one else could use the convenience, causing all the male attendees, mainly clients, to relieve themselves at the door into the river - oh how we laughed! So yes, there is a role to play but never forget it’s all work when you are there.

Dear Uncle Carl,

We were recently involved in a pitch that didn’t go to plan. Despite a positive chemistry meeting, the client was unreceptive to anything we put forward. We’re a young team and I’m concerned the knock-back has dented confidence. Do you have any advice on how to get them firing on all cylinders again?

Stop doing chemistry meetings would be my first thought. Or, do what every agency does and blame the clients.

As we agency people all know, we are intellectual and creative giants with adorable personalities, so if a client doesn’t like us they are simply slack-jawed dolts - no? Sounds like they liked your people (which is great) but not the response, which leads me to believe that the brief was either misinterpreted by one or both parties, or perhaps the brief was missing altogether or you were simply shit, sorry, had a bad day - it happens.

Talk with the team on the day about what they thought of the response and their performance, also check your briefing process and always ensure your prospects and clients are agreeing to the brief prior to work commencing. And after all of that you can then create an area on your website for ‘the ones that should have been’ and put all your failed work to demonstrate to your staff that you thought it was wonderful... even if the client thought it was a pile of poop! Oh and start growing a thicker skin or you will have the crap kicked out of you on a regular basis this is no industry for the faint hearted or overly-delicate!

Dear Uncle Carl,

I have a concerning feeling that part of the reason why we were unsuccessful in a recent pitch was because the winning agency’s female account director was smoking hot, whereas we put forward Jeff. Does this sort of thing still go on?

If all the responses were the same and all the ‘boxes were ticked’, then who are you going for - ‘The Foxy Chick’ or ‘Jeff’? Taxi for Jeff I think!

Are you troubled? Don’t be. send all your questions for the drum’s agony uncle to Or, If you wish to meet with Carl to talk about your business, then simply email him on

Carl Hopkins

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