After spending 20 years in different agencies across the world, I feel like I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the way they’re typically set up.
And I think the traditional model could use some improvement. It just doesn’t seem to serve clients in the right way.
Today, there are so many different medias and channels to market, and you need talent who can work across all of them. But it’s really difficult to have all these people on PAYE and keep them busy all the time – there’s a lot of downtime, which is expensive.
With this traditional model you have quite high overheads, which you then have to bill onto clients in some way. You end up being driven by the need to sell more in order to pay for those high overheads – and you’re pushing this, instead of listening to what the client actually wants.
So, when it came to starting my own agency, I decided I had to do things differently. I wanted to be totally client-centric, focusing purely on doing the work your clients need – and that would deliver the best results for them.
And I was inspired by a magical experience I had with a plumber. This encounter made me totally re-think my understanding of client servicing – which led me to build a new model for my agency.
Inspiration on tap
There’s a funny thing about plumbers: you never really know what they’re doing. And, rightly or wrongly, it makes me suspicious.
I’m always worried that they’re just trying to sell me the most expensive thing they can – like a new boiler when really, I only need a change of valve. I’m sure you’ll have had a few experiences like this with plumbers in the past.
But then I had this really lucky experience with a great plumber, who came round when our heating wasn’t working in the height of winter (when it normally goes wrong!). I was expecting the worst but within 30 secs he identified the problem said it was a simple valve that needed changing which he had in his van. He fixed it in under ten-minutes and he refused to take any money for it.
I was gobsmacked! His approach was so honest, different and generous. As well as being a thoroughly nice bloke, it also made good business sense because he knew next time I had a problem, I’d called him – he’s been my plumber of choice ever since, and I’ve referred him to loads of my friends. His refreshingly honest approach and not charging for the small fry has eventually delivered loads more business for him in the long term.
This is the way I wanted my agency to work. I want to add honest, instant, practical value from the start, instead of manufacturing more billable hours, which is something I’ve definitely been told to do in the past. I remember being warned not to suggest ideas in a meeting with a client, but instead wait and bill them for two weeks of planning time!
So if our clients only need a small valve replacing, I won’t try and sell them a new boiler. And we’ll charge them fairly in the process – so hopefully, they’ll come back to work with us time and again.
Our network model
So, we created a new type of agency, inspired by my experience with the plumber.
I call it a network model, because we collaborate with a network of partners to create work across all possible channels and media. This means we have access to a vast range of talent, so we can always choose the right people for maximum creativity, flexibility and cost efficiency.
I feel that this as an improvement on the traditional agency set-up, since it enables us to be media neutral and deliver totally integrated work. And there’s no downtime to pass on, since we can scale our operation to have 20 people working on a project one week and no people working on it the next.
It also helps us focus on what the client needs, not make recommendations based on what resource we have available.
The traditional agency doesn’t work
It’s a bold statement to make, but I really believe it: the traditional agency model has had it’s day. That’s why I set out to make mine different.
I think if you work hard, do a good job and add value then the money will follow. I do take that to the extreme sometimes – I remember there was once client that I hadn’t billed for a year!
But ultimately, I believe that this way of doing things – the way of the diamond plumber – is the best. And so far, I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved doing it his/our way.