Close-Up: What my non-exec director does for my agency

Using an outsider with experience and industry nous can reinvigorate, inspire and even save an agency.

- Garry Lace, founder, Campbell Lace Beta

We wanted to assemble an advisory board that was eager for us to succeed and wasn't just a reflection of the ad industry.

With such varied skills, it is tempting to continually draw upon their expertise for every decision you make. But how you manage them is crucial. The analogy of Liverpool Football Club's 80s super-sub David Fairclough comes to mind. He was used sparingly but at the right moment for maximum impact.

I was recently wrestling with issues over our speed of growth and whether we should hire ahead of or behind the curve. The advisory board proved invaluable here - Christian was able to share an experience of a similar problem he encountered when setting up a business.

- Christian Purslow, financier and managing director, Liverpool Football Club

When I choose to become an advisory board member of companies, the first questions are: do I have the time to get involved; and are the conditions and talent such that you will realistically be able to make a difference? Everyone starts a company for the right reasons, but some work out while others don't.

The non-executive board is primarily there to regulate the management team.

At its best it can provide business expertise and help with development as well as provide access to wider networks. But it is no silver bullet. Ultimately, the success or failure of the agency lies with the management team.

- Nigel Bogle, chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

Unlike non-executive directors, who tend to have legal and financial ties to the business, Bartle Bogle Hegarty has an advisory board that meets four times a year. In those meetings we will table issues that we're looking for advice on.

Peter has become one of the leading figures in digital content and production, a direction that BBH is making headway in.

Peter's past experience and ability to stay ahead of the curve makes him a vital contributor to these discussions. He is there to challenge our thinking, particularly on issues of content and creativity, and put forward views on how we should address these issues as we expand and develop.

We always have him on hand by telephone or e-mail should the need arise.

- Peter Bazalgette, digital investor and media consultant

As an advisory board, our role is to challenge preconceptions of the management team, and impose our views on where we think the market is heading and how the agency should equip itself to deal with it.

This is an exciting time to be advising on where we think the market is going. TV is not going to disappear. But there are many questions on how broadcast media links to the digital world and that moment of alchemy where both media feed into each other.

I've always been interested in seeing the advertising industry rewrite its rulebook as digital media evolves.

BBH was an agency I've greatly admired and the opportunity to contribute to its thinking is hugely interesting.

- Ian Millner, chief executive and founder, iris

Having grown so quickly over the past ten years, you can easily become over-absorbed in your own vision and find your contact lists quickly exhausted. Non-executive directors give us access to more senior and more influential opportunities. For example, Peter helped us to find and recruit our chairman who he had worked with at Manchester United. He has also used some of his previous experience to help firm up our sports marketing and sponsorship offering.

Leading an agency can be a lonely position where it is difficult to get an accurate sense of how you're stacking up. Peter has been instrumental in counselling me through that and can point out strengths and weaknesses in a way that isn't seen as a threat.

- Peter Draper, non-executive director, iris

When working alongside a management team of an independent agency that has grown quickly, the role of a non-executive director is often to assess and articulate the options rather than get wedded to one set of decisions.

Iris is an agency that is growing quickly, and while I support the executive team, I'm also there as a crucial check and balance to their ambitions.

With such a young management team, senior experience also helps. When we were looking for our chairman, we interviewed six candidates all with similar experience - but it was being able to make a call on which one had the drive to do the job and was the right cultural fit with the agency.

Wherever possible, I can help with putting the agency in touch with the right people and have used my experience to help it develop its sports marketing and sponsorship opportunities, as well as driving its growth in Asia - a market I'm particularly familiar with.

- Mark Collier, managing partner, Dare

John's contribution has helped us to put the right foundations in place from the beginning.

Nowadays, his role is more pragmatic. John chairs the monthly board meeting. He provides senior and objective perspectives on the business that help us to make the right strategic decisions. Contrary to the popular perception of a non-executive as the voice of conservatism, it is John who pushes us to take the brave decisions, particularly when it comes to investment in new areas of digital.

As a non-executive chairman, John is very involved with decisions about company strategy and financial matters, but he also takes a great interest in the "softer" issues such as the people as well as the cultural side of the business.

He is also my mentor and sounding board. We speak regularly on the phone and will meet once a week to garner advice and direction.

- John Bartle, founder, Bartle Bogle Hegarty

The first 18 months at Dare were difficult. Digital advertising was in its infancy and we hadn't quite got the offering and talent right, which made it a lonely venture for Mark to be leading. My biggest contribution was counselling him through that, maintaining calmness and confidence while ensuring the agency moved in the right direction. Gradually, we put the seeds in place for the management team of today.

This was evident in 2007 during the Cossette deal. Unlike seven years before, the role I played was far more moderate, providing a touchstone for the management team rather than leading the deal. My experience helped them focus on how the deal could be negotiated with the agency's interests in mind and, when the time was right, to align the agency with a wider group. But it was really Mark and the management team that made the big calls.

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1 Job description: Digital marketing executive

Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).