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How to identify your perfect non-exec

'Tales from the non-exec’ harnesses the insights and lessons gained from the board rooms of marketing agencies around the UK and abroad from one of the most experienced non-exec directors in the sector, Miles Welch, the founder of Milestone Advisory and former CEO of Digitas and COO of Harvest Digital. Issues such as business strategy, exit planning, growth pains, expansion, culture, leadership, process and people will be covered in the form of tips, tools and advice. Powered by The Drum Network, ‘Tales From the non-exec’ is an essential read for any agency leader looking to grow a better business.

No matter how good you think you are, you don’t know everything. Often the smartest move a leader can make is to admit they need some help”

How to find the perfect fit for your agency

I’m not talking alcoholics anonymous here or a shoulder to cry on (although it’s possible you may need both) but more that getting some external perspective on the things that matter. You and your business.

Being at the top of a business is lonely. You kind of know what’s going on in the industry and with other agencies but you’re not certain. A lot of what you learn (or think you know) is from employees that have left your competition and joined you, or from interviewing candidates, both of which are possibly biased if they are leaving somewhere or trying to impress you to get a job.

Rate cards are another source of competitor insights, or are they? Someone joining your business brings the rate card of a competitor with them. You then base your own rate card on theirs believing this to be market rate, only to realise that you’re not making the profits you wanted, sound familiar? Unfortunately it’s a lot more common than you think.

When it comes down to it, no one can know enough about the market, competitors or business in general. Supplementing your management team with external advisors can fill the knowledge gaps and give you competitive advantage, help you grow quicker and make you more money. They cost money, but if they are capable the return on investment is a no brainer.

Ok, I may have swayed you, but how do you know what kind of advisor you need? Here are a few insights to ensure you find the right non exec for your agency.

1. Create a scorecard of your ideal profile and then try and match the candidates to the profile and not the other way round.

2. Meet a few. This may help with the first point above and help you understand the types of people out there. Chemistry is vital if you’re going to be working with them on a regular basis, the face needs to fit.

3. They need to understand your market. Other market perspective is useful and insightful, but in my opinion these people usually have short shelf lives.

4. Think about what you may need from an advisor over the long-term, are they future proofed? It’s difficult and time consuming to find a good advisor so you want to get it right from the start.

5. Be clear about expectations, how you want to engage them and what role you expect them to play. That way an advisor will know how best to help you. Always have a clear contract that underpins your relationship so you have something to fall back on.

6. Honest advice – you don’t want someone who is going to agree with everything you say. A good advisor will make you feel uncomfortable some of the time, challenge you and keep you on your toes. As long as they do this in a fair and transparent way then it’s a good thing.

7. Once you have engaged someone keep the dialog honest, open and transparent. An advisor will be best placed to help you if they know the full picture, understand you as an individual and the dynamics and aspirations of the business.

Milestone are non-exec advisors to SMEs in the marketing communications sector. The team’s collective experience is substantial; agency leadership, corporate finance, M&A and preparing for exit. Miles can be contacted at

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