Agency Growth Tips 17/21: Attraction. Not promotion.

Published 06.03.2019

Huge apologies for the delays. But, it’s back. My FREE #AgencyGrowthTips. If you’ve been following the series – THANK YOU – I’ve had some incredible feedback.

I’ve been super busy on some big projects – and took myself out of action last week following an injury that involved a pool table. Long story.

But, no more delays. I am back to daily releases of my articles and we are on number 17.

There are five more days of articles to come. Plus one special. And a follow-up Q&A where I’ll answer the best questions I get regarding this series or any other agency growth growing pains.

To recap, none of what I say is rocket science. Just observations, learning, things I wish I’d done differently, tips I’ve been given and a few of my own ideas. There’s no value exchange here apart from the fact I am enjoying writing these pieces. I don’t want an email address, there’s nothing to sign-up too, nothing to attend and no ebook – I just want agency founders, leaders and teams to have access to the things I give away freely over a coffee with anyone.

If you want to know more about me – check out the preamble of article 1/21 – Create value. Not things. Or get in touch.

Usual aside: Dyslexia warning. I can’t spell and I can’t use spell check. And I am a bit sweary. It’s enthusiasm. As are my spellers.

So, today’s article is 17/21… which was supposed to be be about charging. But there is a change in the programme to ease myself back in, with charging to follow laster this week.

As I wrap up this series, I still have some some big topics to cover. Financial controls. Value proposition. Talent. Your exit. The different types of growth. Charging as stated above, and some closing thoughts to all the heroic agency founders and leaders out there that are trying to grow something special.

That word. Special, leads nicely into today’s topic. Driving in-bound new business.

Aside: To anyone that knows this phrase, yes I stole it, I am a member of the ‘club’ and you have my deepest respect. 

As I said, this one is designed to ease myself back in. Short. Punchy. But really important.

In agency world, everything moves so fast, and our own marketing seems to slip into second (I mean last) place – why? It’s not always because we’re too busy. Frankly, it’s because it’s often because it’s so hard – especially for an owner managed agency.

Thanks again for reading and for the encouragement.

I look forward to closing out this series of articles on a high note.

Here we go.

#AgencyGrowthTips 17/21. Attraction. Not promotion.

Today, it’s harder than ever to differentiate an agency, of any kind.

Everyone has a great website, shiny identity, a killer proposition, exposed brick walls in the photos of the agency, happy faces of people wearing t shirts to work and sitting in coffee shops. I can tick that whole list for my old agencies. There’s the office dog too. Had one myself. They are adorable. And of course, the great showreel with some work they did over the last five for clients that don’t even remember that the agency exists.

I’m being playful to make a point – but you know what I mean.

Everyone is sweating their assets to the maximum. And good design, at least aesthetically, is now standard. Video is cheap. And we all have tech in-house.

Swap one snappy agency name for another… take your logo off your website and stick it on someone else’s… are you that different? Come on. Honest now. No. Not from the buyers eye. So how do you differentiate? Stand out? Get attention?

In a world of ‘creative rebellion’ and ‘cool’ how can anyone cut through?

That’s the big question in generating agency leads. How do you cut through and get leads and opportunities flowing

It’s one of the key questions I get asked all the time. About how to master agency new business. How do we get the phone ringing? How do we drive the holly grail – in-bound enquiries? Does that even happen?

I do not want to upset anyone… but yes. It happens a lot. For some agencies, most of their new business comes to them in-bound. Not only that, for some it comes in droves. So much so, they can pick and choose what they do, who for and when.

This may be one of my most contentious posts. But it’s true. I stand by this. And I am not just talking about W1 agencies. It’s regionals too.


Let’s explore the differentiation problem a bit more.

In an article I penned called ‘The lost art of the what and how’ I talk about how the agency market is utterly saturated. The barriers to entry are too low. Agency land is not alone. One of my favourite quotes form 2008, explains it:

“The ‘surplus society’ has a surplus of similar companies, employing similar people, with similar educational backgrounds, coming up with similar ideas, producing similar things, with similar prices and similar quality.”

It’s by Kjell Nordstrom – way better with words than me. And he makes a fine point.

We live in a world of clutter and noise. With agencies promising the same things, from the same looking people, who talk the same language and wear the same clothes.

Now, stop, for a moment and imagine being one sole client.

One target. With one email inbox. One phone. A full time job already.

And then you have every agency in the UK shouting the same things at you, inviting you to an event, sending you quirky DM, playing your showreels with the same pulse racing yet somehow ethereal and sublime soundtrack. From a record label that doesn’t know you’re using it. All of these agencies whose people ate enthusiastic, curious, right on, care about the environment and look forward to Beer Friday.


We. Have. Bean. Bags.

It must be hell. Imagine trying to find your way through this over supplied marketplace os similarity.

Shouting loudest cannot be the way forward. There’s a sea of noise in the way of you being heard… even in you are the best in the business. They can’t hear you.

But. If they can find you, based on exactly what they want… that’s great. And if you have the credentials, awards, memberships and all the hygiene factors that they’re looking for… better still.

If they read about this incredible piece of work that you did, independently covered in their favourite industry press / website / blog (delete as appropriate) amazing.

And if they Google you, and you leap off the page because you’re number one for ‘advertising agency or brand branding UK’ (can’t be done – oh yes it can, it just isn’t easy – one of my old agencies has been on page one of Google for 15 years – that’s not me being a wise ass, we won huge amounts of work that way) then surely you’re great.

And if people recommend you, that’s nirvana. And that’s the change point for your agency new business – it starts coming to you.

And how you make that happen is really simple. It just isn’t easy.

Be brilliant at what you do. Go beyond the brief. Dig deeper. Think harder. Invest in your work – give it the extra 10% that you should be spending on your own marketing but put it into your work. Be exceptional.

Be anything but ordinary. And part of the crowd. Not in your promotions – but in what you do. Be a beacon of insight and knowledge. Push creative boundaries. Use tech in new ways that changes the way people do things. Do remarkable unforgettable work for your clients no matter who they are. Don’t let people down. Push. Get closer to your clients. Get inside their business. Specialise. Be the team… not just part of their team.

Like Oliver have – BRILLIANT. They broke down the agency client borders… former blurred them and created a remarkable business.

Being brilliant and producing the goods is where you win and generate in bound. It won’t happen otherwise. With reputation comes many great upsides. You will attract great talent. Great clients. Brave clients. Your clients will stick with you. Recommend you. Your work will be known, even if it’s not famous, for being effective.

And that’s what clients want more than another lunch at the Chiltern Firehouse.

Be great. And you will attract the right clients.

This is not to say you should abandon all out-bound strategies. But I suggest setting new targets. Do outbound. But do it BETTER than anyone. Do it differently.

There are so many agencies following the same rule, churning through the same activities and all about to launch a podcast. It’s too late. Do new. Be on someone else’s podcast that is already being listened to. Speak at events as well as throw events.

And if I could ever give one big signal away. USE LINKEDIN. It’s untapped. Still. A huge opportunity to reach people – not with DM’s. But with content. Ideas. Opinions. Thought leadership.

Run events – but set the timeline… why not say we will follow this outbound path for 24 months before we have enough in-bound enquiries that we can change strategy. Do less things, but really well. Make your agency and your team famous for what you do, or loved, or expert, or whatever it is that will zig you away from the zagging crowd.

There are huge echoes here linking back to the very first article in this series. 1/21 Create value. Not things. In that note, I state that clients want result over output… not to sacrifice the quality of the output at all, because in the world we live in, quality, impact, style, delight and amazement are all levers that consumers expect to be pushed.

My point is that agencies have to deliver results to make sense of high investment into media, creativity, experiences, installations, events, apps, websites etc.

Results matter the further up the client ladder you get… and the further up you are, the bigger the budgets and greater the pressure. But so to are the results for the agency.

And attraction (in-bound) is the reward for being different and better as an agency. And refusing to be part of the crowd.

And make relationship building your TOP priority with your clients. Underestimate it and you are missing out on the number one driver of growth.

I have an important aside: There is something I disagree with in agency land – growing an agency by numbers. Yes there are approaches that work for agencies in terms of growth – but putting agencies on mass through the same growth strategy will end with winners and losers. And it’s a high risk game.

Your business is not a template. Nor are you. I urge you when seeking any growth advice, and I include me, to reflect on what you read, what you are told and what you conclude. 

I do NOT subscribe to a template approach for any growth strategy. While 80% of it may well be correct, what drives success Is the magic that happens in the final 20% of what you do, how you do it and the why you do it.

To round off my thinking, my point is this, to expect the upsides of being the best (in-bound) doesn’t mean you have to be the out and out best – surely, there can only be one number one.

But agencies come in all shapes and sizes, as do clients – and there is so much work out there, even now.

But to get great opportunities, win great business and do great work, you have to attract them as well as find them. And when you get them, create great relationships from them.

Do out-bound. Brilliantly. At the same time. Focus on what matters. Smash the ball out of the park with everything you do.

You’ll attract more than great work. You’ll attract great people. A great valuation.

And great opportunities.

Promote all you want.

But it’s attraction, in the end, on which you can build a sustainable agency.