Agencies assemble: take action

Hannah McCready, Communications Manager at The Specialist Works on the importance of specialising your services to best suit the needs of your clients, off the back off the IPA Business Growth Conference 2018.

Houston, we have a problem. Well, a few, actually.

Agencies are:

  1. Feeling the pressure to meet their clients’ changing needs.
  2. Asked to do more with less; less time and less money.
  3. Being disrupted, just as their clients are.

But the main problem is:

We don’t like change.

The IPA’s recent Business Growth Conference recognised the changes happening in our industry. The room felt united, with everyone agonising over how to react. Cries for transparency, agility and flexibility captured the zeitgeist, and came from all angles (independents, networks, clients, consultants and procurement).

It felt like everyone was in the same boat. Admittedly, some boats were bigger than others and probably moored in Cannes.

The independent panel’s sentiments resonated with me, with many singing from the same hymn sheet as we do at The Specialist Works (the importance of transparency, your people and the freedom to do truly great work). Mark Evans, Marketing Director at Direct Line Group, and Richard Huntington, Chairman and CSO at Saatchi & Saatchi, hit home when they described the importance of clients and agencies having a shared ambition and an appetite to push for opportunities.

Anna Hickey, COO at Wavemaker UK, highlighted the need for regularly reviewing an agency’s scope of work, and how Wavemaker had expanded beyond traditional planning and buying – and (arguably) veered into consultancy territory.

She understood that change needs to happen, but so did every other speaker. What set her apart were the simple and practical solutions she shared. Not one-size-fits-all, but useful and interesting ways of tackling the issues from different angles.

The faster the media landscape changes, the more ingrained our fear of change becomes. Because it’s moving too fast, and it doesn’t fit with what agencies are supposed to do.

It felt particularly apt when Anna talked about the importance of understanding your suite of services and where the boundaries lie. The boundaries are the hard bit. We can’t be all things to all clients.

It’s one reason why we specialise in fast-growth brands. And specialising means sacrificing.

And yes, it’s scary.

But we believe these clients are the ones best suited to us. And that means we have to be the best suited to them.

To do this, we’ve created and shaped our services to fit their needs. It’s led to us building a unique TV buying model, which makes TV feel like digital to our (often) digital-first clients. We have created new revenue streams, for our clients and us, where we match like-minded brands for mutual low-cost customer acquisition.

Working this way has meant we have grown with our clients.

Sarah Golding, IPA President, hit the nail on the head when she said: “Agencies need to shape up, or get replaced”.

This resonated with me because we always ask ourselves two questions: ‘what’s right for the client?’ and ‘what’s possible?’. It means, when presented with a challenge, we look beyond the standard answer to see if there is a better way.

This way of working requires being comfortable with change – which is unnatural for a lot of us (myself included).

The conference was a brilliant opportunity to hear some of the brightest minds talk about our industry’s evolution, and what that means for all of us. The IPA championing a Commercial Charter to work better together to drive mutual growth is a great example of taking action to provide vital innovation.

Because we’re all trying to do the same thing – thrive.

And to get there, we can’t just carry on doing the same damn thing.


Hannah McCready is Communications Manager at The Specialist Works

To get involved with the upcoming IPA Commercial Charter, please email Joyce Kelso

Last updated 21 January 2022