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How to run an advertising agency: Adam&EveDDB, Engine, Ogilvy&Mather & more advise

The Drum’s annual Agency Acceleration Day – a conference dedicated to helping agencies big and small grow their business – saw the likes of adam&eveDDB, Engine, Ogilvy&Mather, Fitch and more come together to discuss their prioirites for the coming year and how they plan to expand, diversify, and deliver results for clients in an increasingly fragmented industry.

We’ve rounded up some of their top tips for running a successful agency in 2015.

Prepare for the rise of the Chief Brand Officer.

Annette King, chief executive of Ogilvy & Mather UK, kicked off proceedings by telling agencies that they must prepare to work with the chief brand officer. The role sits above all of the other marketing C-levels and aims to establish the brand front and centre of activity beyond simply marketing. King pointed to the likes of Zaid Al-Qassab, who was named BT’s chief brand officer earlier this year. She said this will see brands increasingly turn to agencies to as innovators of products.

Momentum is everything.

When it comes to growing your business, maintaining momentum is vital and extends beyond just winning new business.

“The minute you slow down or come up for air the energy dissipates. Every three or four months we have people move desks in the office. We make them work in different departments, not just their own teams. No one gets settled. There’s always movement,” revealed Xavier Rees, ‎group managing director at adam&eveDDB.

Focus on your strengths

Rees added that it can be easy for small agencies to focus on size as an area of weakness and for energy to be ploughed into compensating in a bid to keep up with larger players in the market. “Focus on making the most of the strengths you’ve got rather than improving your weaknesses,” he said. "Big agency beurocracy reminded me why I loved woking at small agencies. What’s interesting to me is all the things I took for granted in a small agency; we now work really hard to remind ourselves of the behaviours that help make us small."


Finding and retaining talent is an ongoing issue for agencies of any size. But employing the best means not necessarily waiting for a job to open for them; if they are good find them a job. But by the same token carrying “dead weight”, especially in smaller agencies, can be a critical drain on the business.

“Build roles around great talent,” said Steve Snowden, managing partner of Intermarketing Agency. “If they are epic find them a job, if they are not, get your gun.”

Testement to that strategy, Intermarketing has noted a 100 per cent increase in workforce, it's lowest ever levels of staff turnover and is now in its biggest ever office.

Meanwhile, Alex Myers, managing director of Manifest London, advised bosses to avoid recruiters and interviewing people.

"Interviews don't work, you already know whether or not they can do the job. You need to know you can get on with them. Take people out of the comfort zone and see how they react. Meet them in a pub, see what they drink, how they react to swearing. Avoid recruiters – the only time we’ve made mistakes is when we’ve worked with recruitment companies."

Take Risks

Agencies have to take risks, according to Nicky Unsworth, founder and chief executive of BJL Group.

"It's unrealistic to expect clients to take all the risks. Like Coca-Cola, we are working to the 70/20/10 rule, which is 70 per cent is what what you do is what you know is going to be effective, 20 per cent is trying new things and 10 per cent is being experimental. Not all clients have bought into it but a lot of them are," she said.

Engine Group chief executive Debbie Klien later added that among the biggest risk to take is knowing when not to work with a client.

"Our industry is moving so quicky and there are some cleints who don’t keep up. So it’s also our job to know when to say no," she said.

It's ok to fail

And finally, it's ok if those risks don't always pay off.

David Blair, chief executive EMEIA, Fitch said embracing mistakes is vital for agencies. His business has created a "culture of mistakes" where the learnings from projects that haven't resulted in success are considered as valuable as if the project had ticked every box of goals.

"It's not about dramatic failure. It’s allowing yourself to take risks and for those risks not to work out. And then to move on. I don’t think there will be progression if there is no movement," he said.

Podcasts from each of the panels will be made available soon. For more information contact

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