5 ways agencies can be more entrepreneurially focused

Tim Bourne: chair of entrepreneurship for the Marketing Agencies Association
Tim Bourne: chair of entrepreneurship for the Marketing Agencies Association

As clients become more entrepreneurially focused how can agencies re-gear to help? Tim Bourne, the chief executive of Exposure and chair of entrepreneurship for the Marketing Agencies Association, offers a five-point plan.

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"As clients become more entrepreneurially focused how can agencies re-gear to help?" This was just one of the questions I was keen to answer, as part of a study into the fast-emerging entrepreneurial culture in some of Britain’s biggest blue-chip businesses.

The drivers of change appear to be multiple. All companies and commentators we spoke to talked about seismic changes in the marketplace. Changes in route to market, new competitors, new communication opportunities and priorities, changes in sales and distribution, as well as technology inspired innovations.

The companies spearheading this shift to a more entrepreneurially focused agenda are highlighted in a table of top 100 Super Entrepreneurs, compiled by The Marketing Agencies Association.

Interviews with key decision makers in some of these organisations revealed some startling findings. One statistic identified that 80 per cent of clients felt they were not being well served in their entrepreneurial quest by their current agencies. So what can agencies do to address this?

Be agile

Take learnings from successes (and failures) and be prepared to move on. Do not try to institutionalise success. In this business the world is moving too fast. A disproportionate focus is going towards new areas that represent potential for exponential growth. This is often at the expense of existing revenue streams, so agility is becoming a commercial imperative.

Key areas of focus for agencies identified from the report were:

  • Identifying new audiences and routes to market for brands

  • Being prepared to experiment in new comms channels that can optimise revenue return.

Bring new expertise

As your client breaks into new frontiers, identify new competencies required and help fill the skills gap, either on a temporary or long-term basis. The agency's ability to draw on experience across other business sectors is crucial, as is its network in identifying a success formula in new markets.

Develop a true partnership

As one client put it: "Entrepreneurship is a muscle and it needs exercising. To do that, we need agencies to fight with us and tell us things we don't always want to hear. Fear of losing the business means that often agencies don't put up enough fight".

Paradoxically, it is this struggle that creates partnership. As another client said: "Brave agencies help us think differently. In doing so, they change the nature of our relationship."

Partnerships also mean openness and more direct accountability.

Find a new revenue model

In an entrepreneurial model, the current fee-based remuneration doesn't work. One client succinctly stated: "Fixed fees for an uncertain outcome isn't progressive".

There is a lot of discussion about performance-related remuneration, but in practice, much work is required by both parties to make it work effectively. There is also a level of risk that is uncomfortable for many, but entirely concomitant with the entrepreneur psyche.

Be proactive

One frequently observed comment was that agencies sometimes struggle to maintain a proactive spark over any significant timeframe.

One less than sanguine client commented: "I think agencies rarely meet your needs in terms of intellectual stimulation, the challenging spirit, creative engine and flexibility. With most, you start with a honeymoon period that proves they have the ability, but they quickly become lazy and reactive."

From the study it is clear that an entrepreneurially focused client requires continual proactivity, by virtue of the fact that their goals may be clear, but their route often uncharted.

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