Do regional agencies need an office in London?
Having been tasked by Connect, the Midlands-based marketing agency, with setting and up leading its London operation, Alastair Duncan discusses whether or not agencies outside of the UK's capital really do need to set up there in some respect, and what they need to do if they decide the answer is 'yes'.
I’ve recently joined a regional agency to grow the business from here in London. Why? Good reasons. The people are great; the work’s fabulous – and there aren’t that many agencies with the right mix of strategy, creative and tech skills to change how consumers choose brands. And freedom to shape the business never fails to appeal.
Here are seven top tips I’ve learned along the way:
1. Consider the naming conventions.
There’s a few agency start-ups in London right now, driven by the usual dissatisfaction with Big Agency Process and Politics. A trend for cool band-names (Joint, Hello People, The Corner) may also be a factor.
We’ve got a great name already, which is helpful. One good word: Connect.
2. Location, location, location.
For some, it’s a polyboard name on a door and a desk, or a ‘client meeting space’. For others, it’s a 20-person set-up with production.
Decide what works for you. Some clients like big offices; some don't. What’s your approach – near-shoring creative, or hiring teams? Pick what suits, and try and run lean. A few regional agencies in the past have had more expensive leases on property for London meetings – these days there are so many interesting options that mean you’re not tied to a place that runs out of space quickly.
Having great coffee hangouts nearby is a good idea, as is bumping into people you know. Get busy; feel buzzy. There’s plenty of inspiration available. Our neighbours happen to include Karmarama, Krow, We Are Social and AKQA.
3. Can you be different?
All agencies talk a differentiating game. We’re usually defined by what we make – the outputs, the ad, the campaign. I think solving marketing problems is a good place to be. At Connect, we help brands grow by helping customers make the right decisions. And combine creative and technology to make that real.
4. Yes, but are you really different? Can you really innovate?
At a recent Google Firestarters event, Antony Mayfield of Brilliant Noise (right in there with the band-name theme) presented a slide containing one word: ‘RESIGN’.
If you want to do true innovation in agency-land, he argues, you have to own the agency. And we agree – being independent is fantastic for innovation.
5. Do you have any hits?
“Give me a Dove” – “Give me a Red Bull”.
It’s helpful if you do have a hit on your hands (like we do with our latest work for Jaguar Land Rover, helping thousands of customers choose their brands).
Entering popular culture is another plus-point. The dancing hamster we created for Free Radio’s TV ads is now a local hero making 'real-life' appearances of his own. And he helped a new brand succeed in a highly competitive market.
6. Can you make friends and influence people?
Entrepreneurs have a network: clients; former clients; people you know who trust you. But that isn’t enough. You need to make time for the agency matchmaking community.
Not all of them, frankly, are interested in the ‘regionals’. Everyone is interested in new and better ways of doing, though, and listening and responding to their views is important.
The IPA, the Marketing Society, D&AD, BIMA, ISBA – whatever field you’re in, there’s an industry body. Get involved.
7. Are you fit?
It takes work to keep moving, keep talking and keep energy levels high – so literally keeping fit (rugby training in my case) is important. So is keeping costs low.
One finance director in a former life remarked that the agency had spent £100k on ‘awards tables’ and was wondering if they had been delivered.
I’m not advocating complete penny-pinching, but do be responsible and accountable. No first-class travel. In fact – no travel. Skype and Facetime are great tools. Learn to use them.
So what’s new?
The all-nighters, the fun part of inventing work – the start-up feel … But there’s also an established business supporting us – with great clients and an approach to flexible teams and near-shoring that works as well. And do regional agencies need London offices? I’d say yes, but only if they both add value, to each other, and most importantly, to clients.