Co-op CMO on launching her own ad consultancy after losing faith in the agency model

Jemima Bird, founder Hello Finch

The former chief marketing officer for the Co-op has launched her own advertising consultancy and agency network after growing frustrated with the “traditional” industry model.

Jemima Bird has spent over two-decades client side, most recently at the Co-op where as customer director she oversaw its move to refocus on local communities – including a brand campaign directed by filmmaker Shane Meadows – and negotiated the landmark product partnership with Coronation Street.

She left in January to launch her own consultancy-cum-network, Hello Finch, which she’s pitching as the solution to the many woes she endured during her CMO tenure – namely, the compromises that are made by signing up to a full-service agency, the desperate need for consultation in an era of increasingly fragmented distribution channels, and better oversight of cost.

Bird will work with brands to figure out what they need and advise on the right marketing activity then, tapping into a network of agencies she’s already established, she can advise on when and where to invest budget.

“You’ve got the agency model that served us well as an industry, but you end up going to the same people at an agency for the same ideas which you then roll out into your business. And then a few years later you go out and pitch again…which is desperately unfair on agencies as it’s expensive, but clients are just looking for new ideas. The model is broken. Everyone’s in a race to the bottom to provide the best ideas and not getting paid for them anymore,” she said.

“Marketers need a partner to pivot around their exact specifications when they need it. Agencies can’t do that – because they’ve got a fixed and firm way of delivering that comes with an overhead. Hello Finch is still a one stop shop but it pivots depending on what they need at the time.”

Bird claimed this ‘gig economy’ model – where she effectively acts as an account manager – will not only save the client time and money, but the agency as well.

“The creative industry is fantastic at what it does but almost needs to reframe what it does. Rather than saying it can service everything and allowing clients to dip in when they need it, rather than paying for the services 365 days of the year, that will allow the agency model to thrive again.”

Among the agencies to have already subscribed to her proposition are Oceanic and Forever Beta, which both worked with Bird during her time at the Co-op, as well as Studio Blackburn, an agency she used when she was overhauling the Trainline brand in 2015.

She described the collective as her “black book” of agencies and people she’s known, used and that she can personally vouch for to clients. In return, the smaller, independent and often regional agencies are given the chance to work on bigger pieces of work.

She declined to name the three clients she’s working with currently, though said they are “big” and span the public, retail and insurance sectors.

“Marketers really don’t know where the money is being spent. So, the costs are transparently broken down and they can see where money is going – which I always wanted when I was a client – and I provide that account management interface. We’re just a front door to all these brilliant agencies – we do all the admin rather than them having to do it with separate agencies,” she continued.

“I don’t have a creative director, a planner or a strategist on staff. That’s replicating what an agency already does. I’m removing that fixed overhead and telling clients to only spend the money on those people when you need them.”

Looking ahead, Bird has hopes of scaling the model globally, having already had client requests, but is keen crack the UK market.

“For me, the new social order – especially as millennials and younger people start to move into the top positions at brands – is more about value, choice, freedom, speed and control.”

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