50 ways to say I love you: How we learned to date again as an agency start-up

Who you date speaks volumes about your business, says Will Arnold-Baker, the former Publicis London managing director who founded advertising agency start-up Come the Glorious Day.

On being single again

Nine months ago my creative partners and I aligned our mid-life crises and quit our cosy network ad agency jobs to launch our own company. Despite all having kids in education and mortgages to pay, we swapped the relative security for the frontiers of start-up land. It’s akin to being newly single, having been in a comfortable marriage for years. This is the story of how we learned to date.

Your Tinder profile is the easy bit

Nine months on, there’s one piece of universal wisdom that’s worth bearing in mind: be clear on what you stand for.

Our agency positioning is the equivalent of a Tinder profile (or so I’m told – clearly as a happily married man, I have no first-hand knowledge of such things).

We set out with crystal clarity about what we offer to our clients – advertising with value that lives well beyond the initial media plan. Advertising that pays back and is an investment not a cost.

It’s not a random positioning. It’s based on a genuine issue in the marketplace. With a proliferation of media channels, consumers are assailed with so many micro commercial messages across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Sky, cinema, radio and outdoor, that they pass in a blur of indistinctiveness. Marketers, for their part, feel obliged to fill every available channel. With micro-messaging comes the illusion of micro-cost.

So our positioning is a counter to this atomised world. We advocate big ideas that have a more lasting resonance – or glory.

The dating game

Andy Nairn, co-founder of advertising agency Lucky Generals, gave me some good advice when we opened our doors: "The clients you think might be up for it won’t materialise, but you’ll get business from sources you haven’t even thought about." 

He was absolutely right. Within our first six months we had pitched and won accounts for Propertymark, Covered Insurance, the Endometriosis UK charity, Polaroid, and Worcester Bosch.

None of this came through the conventional channel of intermediary. Instead it was a mixture of referrals and word of mouth from industry colleagues and friends. 

Delivery: never swipe right casually

But dating in our world isn’t just about your dance-card with potential clients. It’s also about choosing the right partners.

Rather than grow our workforce and overhead, we have chosen to keep it tight and partner with brilliant delivery companies instead. Senior strategy, creative design and delivery supervision remains with the agency, but we choose partners, not suppliers, to deliver production excellence.

This places huge pressure on those relationships. But it also offers huge opportunity. It means we create genuine relationships with companies that other agencies treat as "suppliers".

With Curious Productions, we have found a like-minded group of souls to work with us on digital advertising, filmed content and print post-production. Pixello built for us a doomsday-countdown website for the launch of the new Polaroid OneStep2 camera. With Burger films we have a TV production partner with whom we have pulled rabbits from hats. 

But is big beautiful?

But in the course of true love, there comes a time when your beloved wants more. How do you crack the irony that the success you helped create might fuel your client’s desire for a bigger agency partner?

Our partnership with SDL might provide the answer. Its network offers us the ability to scale across international boundaries, because it’s in the business of content production, translation and creative trans creation. Its positioning as kings of content and its footprint of 55 offices in 38 countries offers us the ability to cross international boundaries. 

This means that for a client we can create sexy little Instagram story films and be confident that they’re going to be as beautifully told to Kveta in Slovakia as they will be to Giulia in Italy.

Following Sir Martin Sorrell’s resignation from WPP, the analysts swooped on the thought that WPP has become more about duplication than delivery. More process than creative. We’re now firmly positioned to circumvent this. If you’re a client with eyes for creativity and international reach, it turns out that you can have it all. 

Will Arnold-Baker is the founder of Come the Glorious Day

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