Collaboration is a vital part of any smart agency expansion strategy

The whole agency world is starting to shake-out with many highly successful agency businesses deciding that you have to specialise in what you’re good at and form partnerships to expand services. On one level this is exactly what an organisation like BBN provides. It also offers the opportunity to collaborate on work processes and models to improve delivery throughout the whole service spectrum, become more efficient and, to use one of today’s ‘hip terms’, be more agile.

Almost daily we hear examples as to how success was down to discovering what they were good at and pursuing it wholeheartedly together with surrounding themselves with brilliant people (BBN). So, by partnering with other agencies both locally and internationally who offer complementary services and expertise, an agency can focus on their specialisation but still provide clients with the add-on services they need.

However, collaboration is not a shortcut to growth and expansion; it takes a lot of commitment time and effort. If you are relying on a team outside of your organisation to deliver a service or expertise on your behalf, you must have a 100% trust and confidence that they will live up to expectations.

Collaboration within BBN quite often goes beyond supporting clients. Our partners regularly consult each other in matters of an operational nature, for example, HR or financial issues and challenges.

Typical extracts from partner comments in our research:

“It’s easy to reach out to the other agencies, which we regularly do. In the recent past, we have requested templates and sample proposals to support our new business efforts. We are also working with three other agencies to pool our resources as a more valuable prospective partner for large companies.”

“Our colleagues at the BBN partner agency in Milwaukee have always been enormously helpful from advising how to handle a pitch or a piece of work, to provide a perspective on how to manage the business of an agency. This experience sharing gets to one of the overall things I like about BBN, which is the ability to “compare notes” with other BBN agencies. It is so helpful to have the level of experience we have and to reinforce that you are on the right track or you need to adjust your thinking.”

“ Particularly in new business development we fundamentally try to sell a complete range of marketing services knowing full well we can rely on BBN partners to fill any gaps that we can’t provide ourselves directly. For example, I can easily sell-in a brand portfolio assignment, and in collaboration with other partners, we can present a comprehensive proposal and have the ability and confidence to execute.

“Right now, we are partnering in the USA, Sweden and Japan, to collaborate on a large scale BAM project in Japan. With our American expertise in BAM, our Japanese knowledge about the local market, and our Swedish understanding of the client and their products – BBN partners are coming together to create a formidable proposal.”

We’ve talked about collaboration between our agencies, but what about levels of cooperation with clients. Well, it seems that varies tremendously. However, undoubtedly the higher the level of client-agency collaboration the more effective and successful the outcome. As marketing becomes more complex, our agencies see clients reach out more for a wider variety of skillsets and advice. For example, many B2B customers are merely ignoring or doing a poor job of content marketing or other digital activities – due to their lack of skills. It’s primarily a problem the further you get from larger conurbations as the talent pool dwindles.

It seems while some clients expect their agency to become part of their team to co-create strategy and embrace the execution, they place limited value on tactical feedback; they need their agency to be integrated, independent and cost-effective. However, what we see more often is that clients want someone to manage the marketing function on their behalf, somewhat like a ‘fire and forget’ missile. They believe that because they have given a brief and signed a contract, the rest is up to the agency. They don’t realise how much interaction and participation is required to make their marketing, automated or otherwise to be genuinely productive.

However, the good news is, we are starting to see a ‘better’ breed of client that are demonstrating a higher expectation of a collaborative mindset. They want the agency to be closer to their business and more reactive in a world of increasingly complex media channels. There’s also a far more collaborative mindset in the strategic phases, but collaboration still tends to dwindle at the planning and activation stages.

With an increase in expectations to be more collaborative, comes a higher hope for agencies to deliver a hard ROI driven mindset. However, once we do this and have proven our value to clients at the highest C-Suite level, they begin talking about significantly higher budgets. Clients have far too much on their plates, wearing several hats and responsible for many aspects of their business as a whole. To that end, once a general strategic approach is achieved (collaboratively) the expectation is, more often than not, to let the agency ‘run with it’. Now…if it works, kudos to the agency! If there are setbacks…let’s fire the agency! At least now that can be directly linked to performance rather than some subjective view that the ‘ads didn’t work’.

So it’s okay to be an independent entrepreneur and ask for support?

Yes! And one of the things that define the BBN partnership dynamic is its inherent entrepreneurial spirit. Anyone who is an owner-manager is taking higher than usual business and personal financial risks. It’s something our agencies feel continually while trying to feed a staff hungry for work. The risk of having to downsize in the face of adversity is always there – and many agencies go through stressful times as a result of over-stretching on the entrepreneurial journey. However, they have to do it! Agencies are continually engaging in calculated risks to balance profits and ROI to their clients with being an excellent place to work for the people that they employ. More than financial uncertainty, it is the tension between these pillars that keeps them up at night. So what’s the essence of being an entrepreneur? Well, no matter if someone runs a large business or polishes boots on a street corner – if one cares about the outcome and creation rather than a designation, he or she is an entrepreneur.

However, financial risk is only one aspect. The agency requires financial support at start-up as well as the requirement of leveraging personal assets to support the business when times are tough (typically when financial institutions shy away). This will always hold true – especially for small to medium businesses. What is often taken for granted however is the sweat equity required to move an agency forward. Time – the most valuable asset of all in our opinion – is the greatest asset an entrepreneur can supply. New business, day-to-day management, training, resourcing, building trust, operations, and beyond. Money can come from anywhere. Time and commitment need to be realised on the inside. So, from the start, owners need to be steadfast in ensuring they are always close to the business, close to the clients, close to the internal team at every stage to ensure the vision for the agency is maintained.

Participating in an organisation where these challenges can be openly shared with other principals with whom you are not in competition, and surprisingly have gone through many of the same issues and problems, cannot be underestimated.

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If you want to know more about other ways BBN can help your agency, then please contact us.

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