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Say no, stand out and don't be afraid of the in-house agency - top takeaways from The Drum's Brief Encounters

Brief Encounters: 'What Do Clients Want' Panel

During The Drum’s Brief Encounters event last week (20 October) agencies big and small gave their view on the state of adland and the opportunities ahead as Brexit looms large.

There was defiant mood of confidence that, come what may, smaller outfits are arguably in a better position than the industry titans to weather the storm as everything from pitching and selling up to the threat of in-house agencies was discussed.

Here are some of The Drum’s key takeaways.

In-house agencies shouldn’t be seen as a threat (for now)

High street retailer Specsavers has what is now the largest in-house creative agency in Europe, drawing talent from adland through its doors to work on its iconic ‘Should’ve gone to Specsavers’ positioning. For the traditional agency, it should not be seen as an immediate threat but should equally not be overlooked, with the company’s deputy chief creative officer Stephen Reed believing that in the future – as in-housing proliferates – the industry will see only the most “exceptional” creative shops thrive.

“More and more that clients are looking at it as an option,” said Reed. “If you talk to any recruitment agency they’ll say there’s a significant effort from a lot of brands to recruit talented creative people. [Brands] are waking up to the fact if they get it right it could be a viable option.”

But, inevitably when Specsavers doesn’t have the skills in-house to work on a brief it will bring in an external agency. At that point, “cultural fit is the biggest decider” in the pitch process and this has led it to develop a number of longer term relationships rather than work with agencies on a project-by-project basis.

Saying 'No' to new business is still ok

Despite the economic uncertainty driven by Brexit, agencies shouldn’t feel like they need to be constantly be pitching for new business. In fact, according to those on a dedicated panel titled, ‘The Pitch Process - Bad For Business?’, the resounding feeling was that it’s still ok to say no.

As Nicky Unsworth, secretary and chair of the IPA said: “Agency people are uncompromising and will never just give 80%.”

Drawing on her 10-year experience as chief executive at the BJL Group, she said that you can’t forget pitching is done alongside the day job and is incredibly disruptive. So no matter how tempting the promise of new business might be, putting that additional workload on a team at certain times is unfair and so you just have to let it go.

Richard Tompkins, managing director of W Communications, added that he has started to filter the pitches it will participate in based on how the potential client approaches the agency.

“We’re finding that we’re being sent briefs and responding over email. It’s not collaboration, it’s a fishing expedition. So unless the client is prepared to meet you and discuss the brief face to face there’s no point [in taking part],” he advised.

Sensitivity is the name of the game when it comes to pitching

While parallels between the agency world and Coronation Street’s screenwriting process might seem a stretch, there are in fact several similarities that can be drawn from pitching a script in the entertainment sector, according to one of the show's writers Ben Tagoe.

Being sensitive to what the client or producer in the TV show’s case is one aspect that Tagoe emphasised. Having worked previously in sales, he said that he went in too hard pitching story lines, without realising it was inappropriate for the area he was working.

“When I came into this world I realised that subtlety is what they are looking for. Looking back I made those mistakes of being too much of a sales guys, it’s easy to do that and it was a relief to realise that I didn’t need to do that.”

He advised to not “go in to hard” and be more mindful of what the person wants and more aware of what you also want to get out of it.

Tagoe also drew a likeness between long-term campaign planning and short-term tactics for a brand with the way writers at Coronation Street approach storyline planning. The ITV show has a team of 18 writers – alongside three producers and several script editors – who meet every four weeks to pitch in ideas for the various character groups on the soap.

Stand out before you sell up

“If you can’t own the market you are in, redefine the market.” That’s the advice from Felix Velarde agency chairman and serial entrepreneur, when it comes to agencies looking to maximise their sale value.

The co-founder of one of the first web design agencies, Hyperinteractive, urged those agencies looking to sell to choose a specific discipline to stay ahead of the curve and minimise the number of competitors they then face. He drew on the example of Circe du Soleil, the circus company that transformed itself into a theatre company to stand out in the teeming circus space, and consequently can charge “fifty times more” than a regular circus.

If an agency manages to achieve this, “when it comes to selling every enquirer missing what you do wants to talk to you,” said Velarde.

“That needs to be backed up by a relentless marketing process…where you turn the handle and out pops new business.”

For more information on The Drum's Brief Encounters event and to buy tickets for 2017 visit the dedicated website.

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