Sadly 2020 saw the demise of a number of event and incentive agencies, as businesses saw clients disappear and projects slowly went from postponed to cancelled over the course of the pandemic. These were well established and highly respected businesses who did nothing wrong, other than perhaps have all their eggs in one basket that couldn’t withstand the destructive force of a global pandemic.
Whilst the demise of an agency is always sad to see, particularly having experienced it firsthand in the last recession, we’ve also seen growth – with new agencies emerging, businesses repositioning themselves and even some that have started to flourish. But what really is the difference between one agency and another? We all offer similar services, product portfolios and legacy projects. As the pandemic recovery journey starts, and brands begin to seek out and engage with new agencies, I ask how can clients expect to tell them apart?
Nowadays, agencies all have what I call their ‘housekeeping’ in check. It’s an absolute necessity to have the following key business areas boxed off and ready to share with client procurement teams:
Comprehensive data processing agreements with data flows and management processes in place to show a tightly run ship when it comes to protecting user data.
Carefully positioned rate cards and pricing models, ensuring full transparency and fairness with clients whilst operating profitability to enable future investment and success.
Clear and uncomplicated terms of business, ensuring a smooth and speedy onboarding process for even the largest and complex of clients.
No doubt one of the most considered elements when it comes to an agency’s identity, their product and service offering will be refined and designed to position them as one, if not, the best in their field.
Having scrutinised an agency’s housekeeping, and no doubt had multiple meetings or pitches with stakeholders and agencies, are clients any more the wiser on who to contract with?
I’ve been involved in a number of workshops over the years to define an agency’s vision and values. Diving into their purpose and creating a suite of words and descriptors that help shape what the agency stands for. The trouble is, often agencies are striving for the same purpose – with similar company values concluded at the end of it.
What this does lead to, however, is probably the most important part of agency selection and that is the people within the business. Both direct employees and contractors who make up the agency’s staffing.
Having worked agency-side for 20 years, these is nothing more satisfying than building a relationship with a client. Being able to talk to them about anything and everything, from travel and holidays to work challenges and strategy – sometimes we make for a great external sounding board. Talking to clients might sound easy, but not everyone can gauge the balance in a professional context and set the foundation on which to build a long-standing trusted partnership. Agency staff may find themselves sat next to a client on a 6 hour flight, or be introduced to the C-suite team at a leadership conference, and they need to be experienced and competent enough to deal with the scenario professionally.
Large, global agencies have a tendency to wheel in their ‘pitch team’, from the creative director through to events director and everyone in between. But it can be bitterly disappointing for a client to contract with an agency only to find out that the people delivering the project are not as experienced and the account isn’t deemed ‘valuable’ enough to retain the senior team. Immediately the agency has underdelivered.
Irrespective of the name and status of an agency, or the scale and stature of a brand, agency selection is a people-to-people business. Staff on both sides need to be able to converse professionally and knowledgeably whilst connecting and communicating as people, not just as their job roles.
Building an agency with the right team and culture will pay dividends for agency owners, it may even ensure survival when the next global outbreak hits. For clients, I encourage you to look beyond the agency housekeeping and really get to know the people who will be responsible for representing your brand. After all, people buy people.