Ask THE GOODS: How Do We Navigate New Business As a Independent Agency?

Kelcie Gene Papp
December 26, 2023

All products and stays featured on THE GOODS are independently selected and reviewed by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission. We are usually hosted on a complimentary basis. We may earn a commission if you book via the links below, but this never affects our honesty.

Ask THE GOODS is a advice column fuelled by questions from you, our readers, posed those sat at the tables of the world's largest brands and agencies. Have a question for our next edition? Send an email to Kelcie.

In this edition we asked your questions to Elaine Purcell, Chief Growth Officer at DDB North America.

I run a small agency. We have solid clients but want to establish ourselves as leaders in a specific category. How do we position ourselves?

If you're a small agency, know yourself. Figure out what you're brilliant at, and ensure you understand why. A client can only hold a small amount of space for you in their brain - what do you want that space to be? Once you've established that, then make it all about the people. Make sure that they know who your leaders are. Before, I would have suggested showcasing creative work, but now I say leaders because that's what they are buying. The thing you did for Guinness or Marmite last year; who made that and will they be there working on my account? Will they be part of my team? Share what your leaders have done in the past. Because what you've done in the past is impactful, even if you did it for another agency."

I'm a new business director in an independent agency & I'm struggling to communicate with the C-Suite about the reality of new business timelines. What can I do?

What's helpful is to imagine the pressures that your C-suite is under. If you're getting pressure from others, the first thing you need to stop thinking about is that it's to do with you. Instead, start thinking - what pressure is that other person under? You know, this is rarely personal in this industry. People are stressed because of something that's happening that you're not aware of. Just apply a little bit of empathy. Get into your boss's head or shoes at every level, and start to imagine what's keeping them awake, the sooner you can get on with your job - making those problems seem smaller and less of a problem, the better. You're also, getting pressure because, potentially, you're not managing things correctly. If the C-suite is feeling frustrated this could mean you haven't conveyed when decisions are going to be made - even if you don't know. So, underpromise and over deliver. If a decision gets made quicker, no one will fault you for that. If you think something will take a month, tell your team we probably won't hear back for another six weeks. Before you know it, people aren't as anxious if you haven't heard after four weeks. You've helped curtail expectations."

I'm working at a small, independent agency in London, and our client-agency relationships are at a non-sustainable level and clients are ghosting me. I'm close to burning out; What can I do?

From a resources perspective, you can say to the client 'we're in a position to commit X amount of time to this project and I need to be able to manage that.' By laying out the ground rules of what's going to work for you. You're teaching someone how to treat you. Have backbone and integrity and say, 'that's not how we do it around here'. You could day, 'These are our terms and conditions or rules of engagement. Are you in?' Have that conviction - don't worry about it. From the very beginning, have a grown-up conversation and if possible, eliminate the nickel and dime mentality with potential clients you have. Try to avoid relationships or dynamics based on hourly pricing - I'll work five hours, you'll pay me 5x - because, in a way, there's no incentive for the agency to over-deliver on that front. Because what will happen is the client will say, stop after two hours. And you're like, what? No, like, we didn't do the best possible work. Start to create this by saying 'this is what we want to accomplish together. Are we all in agreement on that? This is how we will price that? Yep, great.' If you're working on sorting hours per job, you're watching the clock, it's a different mindset. And when an agency-client structure begins in that way, or that partnership begins in that way, I think it very quickly slides into this sort of nickel and diming, where we over-deliver something and charge you for it. 'No, no, we agreed that this is what success looks like, you're going to pay us fairly, we're going to treat you fairly.'"

Kelcie Gene Papp
Founder & Editor