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Agency secrets: Make profits, capture the latest creative trends and how to utilise Brexit

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Companies shared their success secrets at The Drum Network Business Jam, Manchester / Kristina Flour

In March, The Drum Network took its Business Jam event – an insight packed afternoon launched to provide invaluable information and networking opportunities to creative agencies – to the region of Manchester to gather some understanding on how an agency can build its profile and raise its profits.

The Jam saw agency experts share their tips on how to win more new business, maximise the profits in an agency business and how current market conditions are shaping agencies. A panel discussion with Code Computer Love, CTI and Amaze illustrated how agencies are meeting the challenges that 2017 is throwing at them.

Here are our key take-aways for the day:

Peter Czapp, The Wow Company

Pete Czapp, founder of accountancy business The Wow Company, explained that although it appears that a lot of agencies have won awards and receive lots of great feedback, many of them just tick along. What is it that makes an agency successful and profitable?

There is one vital clue that everyone should follow in order to stay ahead of their finances and raise their profits: know the metrics on your agency dashboard and keep an eye on them. When you drive your car, you don’t need to be a mechanic to read your dashboard. The same applies here: you don’t need to be an accountant to look under the bonnet of your agency, and it's imperative for driving your agency forward.

There should be no more than seven metrics on your dashboard and agencies make mistakes when they only have lagging indicators on there, e.g. past events and money in the bank; that doesn’t help you – do not just look back, have objectives on your dashboard that will also look to the future. Sometimes what seems like a good month will only take effect a few months later, so always look ahead.

Jacqueline Bourke, Getty Images

After Peter, Jacqueline Bourke took the stand, explaining the top search trends on Getty Images and what these reflect upon our social and cultural trends.

‘Woman’ has been the biggest cultural search term for digital for the last six years – before that is was man and business – things are seeing a big change.

Here are the six top search trends since 2016:

‘Gritty woman’

It’s a super sensory type of imagery. The first thing that catches clients’ attention when they open your website on their screen is visuals – it is this very independent body gesture that carries a story. Popular images are tough Beyoncé, rallies against Trump and the ‘fierce female’.

In the box office we are attracted to women that are no longer an image of pretty but show strength and character. This is demonstrated on the covers of some of the most popular TV programmes, such as Stranger Things and Star Wars.

‘Unfiltered’

There has been a massive amount of shares for the unfiltered option on Snapchat and the search for ‘real bodies’ has increased by 147%. ‘Unfiltered is very popular for buying trends.

‘Naivety’

The number of searches for encompassing the bizarre has increased by 17%. There is currently an obsession with how creativity happens. A tongue in cheek and playful silliness in storytelling.

‘Colour’

Colour has always been around but there is a surge of it at the moment. Monochromatic is very popular at present – a great drive for anti-authenticity. Playfulness with one colour. Whether you’re thinking about a bold or soft approach, consider colour.

‘Global neighbourhood’

Using visuals to represent a connected world sits at the height of search demand. Focusing less on where we are and more on who we are will be reflected by the creative industry, as 'borderlessness' and belief replaces cultural identity as we know it.

‘Virtuality’ (virtual reality)

The need to experience an image and feel a part of it, rather than just see a photo, has caused the search for virtual reality to increase by a staggering 321%. Allowing people to be part of something is the main gain for creative industries.

Dan Sudron, The Future Factory

With a hearty talk of how to make new business, Dan Sudron, co-founder of The Future Factory, was next up.

He explained that there are three simple steps to making new business and if each step is perfected then it is a pretty easy transition:

Step one – proposition.

Proposition is a huge struggle for most agencies because they don’t understand what it is. A proposition is not a slogan or a specific set of guidelines that is eased into every conversation, it is a believable collection of the most persuasive reasons people should notice you and buy from you.

Step two – targeting.

Define who your best clients are, and what services they buy from you. Who do you work into? How did that relationship start?

Step three – process

There are many tools you can use to finalise the process, many of which get forgotten about. Phone, e-mail, social, face to face, word of mouth and direct mail are all acceptable means of getting people’s attention.

Getting in front of people can be daunting. Understand that this is a long game, dedicate time and stick to it. Make proactive, provocative and targeted approaches. Be empathetic with people and don’t take things to heart – there are many circumstances to consider and often it isn’t personal.

What are your habits? How often do you dedicate to checking your phone, your emails, checking up with people? Make it happen!

Tony Walford, Green Square

Tony Walford, partner at Green Square, was next on stage. Tony’s presentation not only encompassed the state of the economy and how agencies can most efficiently adapt and embrace these changes, but he also introduced some of the room to a new term: ‘Trexit’. Did anyone else know that the dawning end of Trump’s reign was being referred to in the portmantua?

We are seeing a lot of political uncertainty, which could cause a tsunami of agency change. There are those that seize the moment and use it to their advantage and those that miss the opportunity.

As the nation adjusts to the idea of Brexit, we are seeing an array of different views. Green Square is thriving and noticing M&A are in good shape despite Brexit effecting change, but the top UK companies (350 FTSE) surveyed produced two views:

  • Most top UK companies are not considering moving HQ somewhere else in Europe and 54% said Brexit was not among the list of principal risks that they were reporting.
  • Only 8% expected a 'slight' improvement, and none expected a significant uptick.

Opportunities and risks

In uncertain times there will be two types of agency: the quick and the dead; if you react to opportunities then the fleet of foot will thrive. In uncharted territory, everything is up for grabs. In periods of uncertainty and recession, the agencies which have done well are those which have had the courage to take advantage of the opportunities and maintain investment and expenditure on marketing in recession (P&G).

Those falling by the wayside in failing to respond to changes in demand, or right-sizing their businesses, will lead to quick revenue opportunities. Follow the money, align with complementary agencies as opportunities arise and consider opportunities to sell your agency where there is a strong strategic or commercial fit.

Remember that confidence is what makes agencies attractive; give people confidence and the money will follow you. If you say “Yeah, business seems to be sparse for most agencies but we haven’t seen it”, this is very appealing. Nobody likes arrogance, but be confident.

Panel discussion

A panel discussion saw some interesting theories arise from Code Computerlove, Amaze and CTI:

A big change in the industry is that clients want to collaborate and only have one contact.

  • Collaboration is key. You cannot have everything. There is so much technology out but you cannot get a group of people together to train on that one piece of tech; collaborating with others that are experts in something you require is the way forward.
  • The way we hire is changing: digital creative is opening up to new candidates and agencies going into universities and engaging with people of different skill sets is a huge change. It is also cheaper because you don’t go through recruitment.
  • You need to inspire the parents of school children – show them that the money is there in the jobs they don’t consider work (eg gaming) and that their kids could actually be earning more money than them. That’s what we need to tackle.
  • The future will be apprenticeships. Young people are interested in earning so they don’t fall into debt, and they are learning at the same time. Agencies have shifted in the way they approach education; they no longer see it as the school’s problem. We recognise talent and we want to bring that talent into work.

The next Business Jam will be held in Amsterdam on Thursday 20 April, where you can learn how to make your agency famous.

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