Ben Hayes is a co-founder of the independent agency Goodstuff. Just after the agency’s fifteenth birthday and in anticipation of our Business Growth Conference on 10 July, he talks about how agencies can keep growing.
There’s joy and freedom in being an independent agency because you get to decide how you do things. Free from the pressures of external shareholders and holding companies we can set our primary targets and goals against three things; The happiness of our people, the quality of our work and the strength of our relationships with our clients. We believe if you get these three things right, then growth will follow.
In 2011, seven years after we set up Goodstuff as a communications planning agency, we decided to expand our offer to include media buying. In the course of doing that we went through an exercise to articulate what it meant to ‘be Goodstuffers’. We came up with six behaviours. The most important of which was ‘Do the right thing’. We apply this both to our clients and our interactions with each other.
One example of what I mean by this is always giving clients the advice they need. We make the recommendation that we think is best for them regardless of the short-term impact on the business. This might make us less profitable in the short-term. In the long term though,
it builds a stronger relationship with our client, which means they trust us more and keep coming back.
Another example of this is our approach to trading. We found that many of our new clients felt that the plans they were getting benefitted their previous agency’s deals rather than them. We committed early on to avoid this and invest our client’s budgets on a line by line basis, always answering the needs of the clients first in the long term. That approach gave us a competitive advantage.
To grow, it’s obvious that agencies have to remain relevant to their clients. It’s vital that agencies stay close to their clients to achieve this. Their futures are our futures so we have to invest a lot of time thinking about them, about how we can move their businesses on. At Goodstuff if we learn something with one client, we always look for ways to apply it with the others.
For my co-founder and me, though, it’s also about remaining in love with our industry. We‘re obsessed with it and inspired by it. We grew up in full-service agencies, so we naturally have an eye on the market. We love what we do and unashamedly had the word ‘media’ all over our branding at a time when many other media agencies were shying away from it.
Our obsession with all things media means that if we spot anything new, or an opportunity, we try it out. We recently launched G-Force, a flexible new trading division that allows independent creative or smaller media agencies, and clients, fast access to the bits of our business they need. They can now deliver full-service campaigns, while executing their own account management, for example.
Agency growth is a long game. When we launched Goodstuff, we wanted to create a brand, not just another agency. By focusing on this, we have been able to practice what we preach to clients, and show that a focus on longer-term brand building can lead to growth. If the industry is to continue to grow, I think that long-term view will be crucial.”