Karla Morales-Lee: why are creative agencies so bad at marketing themselves?

The UK is widely regarded as the creative capital of the world. Agencies lie at the heart of this, creating some of the best and most innovative campaigns for their clients. So why then, when it comes to marketing themselves, does the creative industry seem to lose its steam and stick to the same old, tired methods of cold calling or relying on intermediaries?

80 per cent of the clients we speak to say that they judge an agency’s ability to market their business on the way the agency markets itself. With some CMOs getting as many as 10-20 agency approaches a day, there’s a real need to stand out from the crowd and inject some innovation into self promotion.

Picking up the phone and cold calling may sometimes get you through to the right person at the right time when they’re looking for an agency, if you’re lucky. More often than not, it won’t. When approaching a new business prospect with a hard sell, all the power is with the client and you have to default to a persuasive role. Over 60 per cent of clients we interviewed said they were bombarded so frequently it impeded their daily work. An unwelcome disruption to someone’s day is not a brilliant way to get your foot in the door.

Clients want to do their own research and make their own buying decisions. Agencies that focus on attracting prospective clients, not proactively selling their services, convert more new business as they build stronger relationships and allow clients to decide when to buy.

I like to look at new business as an iceberg. Agencies at the top of the iceberg get on pitch lists run by intermediaries. However, the lion’s share of agencies reside ‘underwater’ and don’t make it on to these. As a result, these agencies have to be much more strategic and creative about how they get in front of clients.

I’m deeply concerned about the state of new business in the creative industries. For those that want to know what works when it comes to ‘getting in the door’ of potential clients I believe that everything about the way agencies sell themselves needs to be transformed.

I would argue that the role of new business director is transforming to reflect the responsibilities of a CMO. With this obviously comes a change in the skills required to do the best job. Rather than being a ‘lady or gentleman who lunches’ or a Rottweiler who lives on the thrill of the call; agency CMO is a far more complex role that involves everything from social media to events, SEO to content creation.

]This change in approach should start with the new business director and gradually evolve into an agency-wide culture. I’ve found that when everyone in the agency is primed to win new business, not just the management team, the results are far more noticeable.

In essence, the agency as a whole needs to project its brand at all levels from account executive to CEO. Ultimately, agencies that apply the same level of innovation and creativity to their own marketing as they do when creating work for their clients, are the ones that will win the most exciting and lucrative new business.

AAEAAQAAAAAAAANAAAAAJGZhODgzMzcxLTI1NjYtNDRjZC04MmRlLTU3MDdmYTQ4MGNhZQKarla Morales-Lee is co-founder of the UK Agency Awards

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