Noelle McElhatton: what we can learn about agency marketing from Saatchi, Iris, Sapient Nitro and W+K

Agencies must do for themselves what they do for their clients, or risk being overlooked for new business.

That’s a no-brainer, given marketing in its many forms is agencies’ core product. But much as agencies like to think they are good at selling themselves, a more mixed picture emerged at the Oystercatchers Club Agency Awards earlier this week.

The surprise was not that the winners have excellent websites, RFI and credentials, and agency films, which were indeed world-class, but that some entrants made very basic mistakes in their marketing (see below).

And does the highly sophisticated UK agency scene really need to be told “it helps to know your own positioning, which helps us,” as one judge, General Mills global marketing director Jennifer Jorgensen, pointed out to the agencies and marketers present at the event. Apparently so.

For the full list of winners and shortlisted agencies from more than 80 winners, see here for Oystercatchers’ book of the night and below for some winning and losing agency marketing strategies, and the judges’ verdicts.


What the winners did right

1. Give clients a voice

The most convincing proof of ability are results and what clients think of you. The shortlisted agencies for best film – DigitasLBi, Wieden & Kennedy, RCKR/Y&R – all gave clients the opportunity to speak. But in the end, having Nike’s co-founder Phil Knight endorse your work was a hard act to beat.

Best agency film winner: Wieden+Kennedy


2. Websites that quickly grab you

Agency websites must hook visitors in the first five seconds, have convincing, results-driven case studies and communicate the agency’s own brand clearly. “We don’t visit your website to choose you – we already know [about you],” said Rory O’Neil, director of marketing, Samsung Mobile Europe. “We want to see your people and what they’ve achieved and who they’ve worked for.”

The Co-operative’s customer director – food, Andrew Mann, said he looked to get “an emotional tingle” from agencies’ work being showcased. Above all, websites must be both easy to navigate and be inspirational, and Sapient Nitro “did just that,” Mann said.

Best agency website winner: Sapient Nitro


3. Credentials that show pride, beauty, detail

We know that clients are time-poor and in some cases, desk-poor, as Microsoft’s Philippa Snare revealed. All the more reason for credentials to show “the evidence,” Tesco’s group managing director David Wood, said. “Has the work delivered against results? Has it grown the business?”

The shortlisted agencies (Iris, VCCP and Antidote) that made the cut, Crystal Palace FC Chairman Steve Parish, explained, were “proud of their work and of their clients,” and “delivered on results and were made with love.”

Best credentials winner: Iris


4. The ‘rude not to’ rule

The desired outcome for RFI documents, Oystercatchers’ Peter Cowie said, was a client feeling it would ‘rude not to’ invite the agency to a chemistry meeting. RFIs are by necessity business-like but “can be very functional and a bit dull,” said Jaguar global marketing communications director Ian Armstrong. Attention to detail is one must-have but evidence that an agency is fun to work with is another.

Which is why judges felt Saatchi & Saatchi’s risqué spoof BBC magazine and homage to the comedy W1A “was brave, risky, but smart and clever and you got a massive sense of who these guys were,” said Pete Markey, CMO of the Post Office.

Best RFI winner: Saatchi & Saatchi


What the losers got wrong

1. Weak SEO

Hard to fathom that in 2014, there are agencies that don’t get the basics of how website content is crawled and indexed, but this was true of some entrants. Such a scenario is tantamount to falling at the first hurdle, as General Mills’ Jennifer Jorgensen pointed out. “Do I want to trust my brands to an agency that doesn’t even get SEO?” She didn’t have to answer that one.


2. Poor quality design

Steve Parish, the founder of production agency Tag, has an acute eye for quality and found some agency creds wanting. Creds must focus on covering the basics and “be an eye-catching piece of work. Some [entrants] were poorly printed, poorly designed. You get so many things through your door that this needs to be the hygiene factor. Some things [we saw], typographically and design wise, were poor. You’re better off not sending anything.”


3. Professional doesn’t have to be robotic

Choosing an agency is a serious business but clients don’t want it to be a boring one. “I’m looking for something that grabs my attention, and a lot of entries we saw were very robotic,” the Post Office’s Pete Markey said.


4. You’ve got mail… or maybe not

Perhaps it’s a reaction to the growing deluge of spam, but some agencies still won’t publish personally identifiable email addresses on their sites. The judges found websites with admin@ email addresses very off-putting. The Co-operative’s Andrew Mann did a test email to entrants during judging. He’s still waiting to hear from one he emailed.

unnamed-9>Noelle McElhatton is head of content at Eulogy PR Group and a former editor of Marketing. You can follow her on Twitter@n_mcelhatton

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