It’s hard to fathom that in just a few weeks time, I will have been a creative agency owner for 22 years. That’s a whole generation.
When I opened my first agency, the-field in 1998, I didn’t have a clue what I was doing – I’ll admit that. But ignorance is bliss, and all I was focused on was generating really great relationships, delivering fantastic work, charging fairly and hopefully making a profit. In fact, looking back now, running a creative business seemed pretty easy.
Things were much simpler then: digital was new and experimental for those that dared to specialise – we didn’t. There were clients and there were agencies; it was a rare occurrence that a client had an in-house team. And getting engaged commercially was as easy as exchanging an estimate and a PO – usually via fax.
But things had to evolve. And with that evolution came intended and unintended consequences. Things got more complex and more multi-layered, but thankfully as I matured into an agency leader with Mr B & Friends, I had become better equipped and more experienced to handle the changing landscape.
Generally speaking though, most of the changes have been client side instigated. The move to omni-channel marketing, the proliferation of in-house agencies working alongside external partners, and engagement being handled by procurement more often than not. And we agencies have adapted well.
Reflecting back though, how much has really changed inside agencies over the last 20 years, and how we go about our business?
We still work incredibly hard, and often very, very long hours. Our hearts still lead us to free pitches when our heads say no. We still have a rate card and sell our expertise in units of time like a tradesperson would. We still pay a fortune to have the best workplace we can afford on the premise that it will impress everyone. We still love solving problems and pleasing people with our willingness – often to our own detriment.
Some of those things should never go away.
But as I write, we’re in the eye of the storm of a global pandemic so seismic that if you’re a business owner and haven’t taken the time to think about how to improve your business from the inside out, then you’re missing a trick.
They say that necessity is the mother of all invention, well Covid-19 has forced really good change on Mr B & Friends. In fact, it’s forced permanent change on our agency that we know will benefit everyone: staff, colleagues and friends.
Over the last six months, while the world has been in a flat spin, we’ve taken the time to look at every part of our business through a hyper critical lens. And, if it looked, sounded or felt like nonsense, we’ve changed it.
I’ll share some examples of how we’re evolving for the better.
Where we work. We think that dragging staff to our office everyday now feels like nonsense. We’re doing our best work without demanding they commute. They like it, we like it. So, we’re introducing a permanent WFA (work from anywhere) policy to everyone’s contracts. Home, office, park, wherever – we’re focused on our outputs, not where they were achieved. We’ll never be a completely remote agency, as we’ll need culture, collaboration and meetings, but now it’s more at our team’s choosing.
Our office. Stunning 6,400sq ft of prime city centre office space. Empty for already seven, but probably 12 months. That’s nonsense. We’ve exercised an opportunity to surrender the lease at 3TQ and we’re taking it. A new, smaller collaboration hub designed for a dynamic workforce and client interactions will be opened as soon as the pandemic subsides.
Infrastructure. We’ve migrated our entire IT system to the cloud. Having a big server with blinking lights taking up more and more space felt like nonsense. Our new contract with Egnyte means we can securely access our data anywhere in the world, enabling a more connected workforce wherever they are.
EVP. The last year has really tested everyone’s mettle and not recognising this would be nonsense. So we’re designing an employee value proposition that focuses on the four P’s: pay, play, performance and purpose – an employment and social contract with our colleagues that will ensure that Mr B & Friends remains one of the UK’s most progressive employers in the creative industry.
And there’s plenty of focus and benefits for our clients too. What they’ll notice is that we’ve become easier to work with, more transparent, more focused on their needs, and putting more investment into brilliant work.
And at the heart of Mr B & Friends, we’re returning to what was important back in 1998: generating great relationships, elegant delivery of brilliantly created work, and fair and sustainable commercial arrangements.
Because some things should never change.