Harbour: what's the real story?

The benefit of working with independent, specialist agencies with integrated thinking and output is the best of all worlds.

Earlier this week Jeremy Lee, writing for Campaign, took a somewhat negative view of Harbour and its likely appeal to agencies.

Reassuringly, however, the general response to the launch of Harbour in late June has been extraordinarily positive and his views are overwhelmingly in the minority.

In itself that doesn't make them any less legitimate and neither I nor Harbour, are above criticism or challenge; I’m happy to take it and learn from it when it's objective and informed.

I set up Harbour to help level the playing field between the independent sector and the big networks. The proposition is to help specialist, independent and discrete agencies work together to extend their capabilities to produce better work and partner with each other on new business whilst also seeking to identify opportunities to coordinate back office operations and purchasing where possible. 

The launch of Harbour comes at a time when many questions, especially from clients and now investors, are being asked about the benefits of the concentration of ownership in our business which has been one of its most profound developments in the last 10 years. 

We have clearly hit a nerve...

We launched three months ago during Cannes week with the most read story on the Campaign website on the day; other editorial coverage and social media chat that followed was extraordinary; our news about new members last week had over 15,500 views on LinkedIn.

We now have 11 member agencies, having just added the wonderful PR agency Hope & Glory this week and have had approaches from over 50 independent agencies interested in joining. 

Some of our members are established, successful businesses; others are younger, smaller agencies offering new and exciting skill sets. For the latter, we can clearly help in building a higher profile in a busy and competitive agency landscape. 

Among these member agencies we already have half a dozen ongoing partnerships on pitches or existing clients.

In the last week we have had two new business meetings where the client approached us direct in search of a new agency model; one a very large International consumer good business, the other a classic new economy business. Both were more interested and excited by our model than I have seen at almost any time in my 30-year career.

To them, and we believe many other clients, the benefit of working with independent, specialist agencies with integrated thinking and output is the best of all worlds. The greatest agency naivety of the moment is in thinking one agency can do everything – or at least do it very well. 

Our industry is clearly in need of some new thinking as there is much dissatisfaction around on all fronts. There is also both the room and the need for a multitude of agency offerings and agency group structures; no one approach suits all clients or all agencies. 

I’d say that for a very young "putative" alternative offer we’re doing okay and have already moved way beyond the "theory".

Paul Hammersley is the founder and chief executive of Harbour Collective


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