An A to Z guide to marketing and PR agency management

An A to Z guide to marketing and PR agency management

Agencies are straightforward organisations to manage. It’s no more complicated than A to Z.

I caught up with David Brain recently on a visit to London. He’s an agency boss based in New Zealand that helped build Edelman in Europe, and latterly Asia.

Brain now has a portfolio career that includes a non-exec role a Enero Group, the group that includes Frank and Hotwire. His presentation guide on agency management is a must read for anyone in the business.

This A to Z has been inspired by his wisdom.

Agencies – client, talent and a clear proposition are the three ingredients that you need to build a successful agency. Don’t over complicate it, save your energy for clients.

Bullshit – focus on delivering excellent work for clients and success will follow. Eliminate as much bullshit as possible that doesn’t contribute to this goal.

Community – the era of command and control is over, especially in networked agencies. Build a platform to connect talent around the world. Smart people will seek each other out and find work.

Development – everyone in the agency, irrespective of role, should have a personal development plan, aligned to the agency and their own goals. It’s critical to motivation and performance.

Energy – agencies should be high energy environments. Eliminate bureaucracy and communicate openly, transparency, and quickly.

Flexibility – accommodate the need of employees to manage their other lifestyle demands such as partners, children and parents insofar as possible. It’ll pay dividends in performance and loyalty.

Growth – it’s much easier to manage a growing business than one in decline. Financial growth creates opportunity for promotion, new talent and investment in other agency priorities.

Hiring – recruit the best people that you can afford, remunerate them as well as you can, and then get out of the way and let them get on with their job.

Ideas – clients buy creative ideas and ability to execute from people that they enjoy working with. A successful client relationship requires creativity, account management and chemistry.

Job titles – titles are given disproportionate importance within an agency. Recognise that they are a currency for personal status but that work, remuneration, and progression are what matters.

Key performance indicators (KPIs) – there are four potential financial KPIs for an agency: grow profit, revenue, invest in a new service or market, or modernise. High performing agencies do two out of four well, but never more.

Leadership – the role of an agency boss is an equal mix of cheerleader, tyrant and visionary. Psychotic optimism is a crucial part of the role.

Mergers – there are two things that you need to get right from the outset of an agency merger. What’s the new organisation called, and who is in charge? Everything else will follow.

Numbers – align the objectives of your work with your client’s business objectives, and measure the outcome of your work accordingly. It’s the surest way to build profitable client relationships.

Operations – agencies aren’t complex businesses, but disciplined finance, operation and HR functions are critical to running a healthy operation and should be part of agency management.

Pipeline – the sales pipeline is the lifeblood of the agency. It’s the key to investment, in particular in talent. Maintain a disciplined approach to qualifying, tracking and closing new business.

Queens, drama - agencies are a hot mix of talent but there’s no room for drama kings or queens. The management overhead sucks resource. Adopt a zero tolerance policy and manage accordingly.

Resource – matching talent with client work within the margin of profitability is as tough as it gets in an agency. In the UK a vibrant freelance market picks up the slack.

Success – it’s important for the whole agency to celebrate wins, and learn from losses. It’s a ritual that binds the team, and defines agency culture. In either event move on quickly to the next job.

Talent – account teams, specialists, and operational teams deserve equal recognition and respect, and investment in mentoring and learning and development. We’re in it together.

Uncomfortable - agencies often grow as organic organisations, and occasionally bad behaviour and poor performance become normalised. Periodic client and talent resets are required.

Vision – everybody in an agency should understand its purpose and vision, and their contribution to the agency. Almost all agencies fail this test.

Workflow – automation and technology remove administration and enable agencies to work faster and smarter. What’s your tool stack and how do you apply it to agency workflow?

X factor – every year hot agencies emerge that seemingly outperform the market. There’s no magic. They achieve it through hard work, and either riding a fast-growing niche or a talent proposition.

Yield – keep talent costs below 55% of income, and overheads below 25%. Net margin should be 20%. Valuations are typically five to six times profit. Products, intellectual property and specialism can drive this up.

Zero – clients are increasingly zero-base budgeting every year. It should be the norm within agencies. Invest in sales and marketing to address revenue shortfall.

With thanks also to my agency mentors: Steve Earl, David Gallagher, Sarah Hall, Iain Johnston, Bill Jones, Barri Rafferty, and Dr David Rockland.

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