How to make a start-up agency a success story

Adland offers advice to Laurence Green and his fellow co-founders ahead of their start-up's launch.

Former Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol and Fallon founding partner Laurence Green: new start-up
Former Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol and Fallon founding partner Laurence Green: new start-up

These are the most exciting times in our business for years, and having a blank canvas is very exciting," Laurence Green, the Fallon founding partner, told Campaign last week when the news broke that he was planning to leave the agency and launch a start-up.

But in an ever-changing climate in which the industry is developing more rapidly than ever before, what key factors should Green and his co-founders, Fallon's executive creative director, Richard Flintham, the former Cadbury marketing director Phil Rumbol and the Saatchi Saatchi Fallon chief financial officer, Steve Waring, consider when approaching this clean slate?

Guy Hayward, chief executive, JWT London
Every channel needs to be seen as a creative opportunity. I'd try to reduce the number of departments that the agency has to help manage things much more simply.

I'd look to make hirings from all different types of creative backgrounds, from packaging design to sponsorship to digital solutions. There would also be an emphasis on global experience, too. But while you want people with a wide range of creative backgrounds, it would still need to be driven by a strong, singular creative leadership.

I'd avoid freelancers like the plague. You need people to be able to understand and be associated with your own brand before you can even think about working on anyone else's.

Jason Goodman, chief executive, Albion
You have to look at putting technologists and media thinkers at the heart of the creative process. You also need a talent pool that doesn't just sit in the agency. There's a huge freelance talent pool that can be tapped into.

We're constantly asking clients what they're looking for nowadays, so it's clever to have ex-clients on the inside. If you don't, then it's very hard to do anything more than pay lip service when speaking with clients.

And I've felt for a long time now that there's more talent client-side than creative side. They understand the creative process just as well or perhaps even better than most industry people do.

I think the next set of top agency heads will also need to have modern PR talent in their agency offering. It's been more coincidental in the past that people working in the business may have just understood the discipline a little, but now - particularly with the growth of social media - that's a skill that's needed at the heart of an agency.

Ben Fennell, chief executive, Bartle Bogle Hegarty London
There are a few things I would be focusing on if setting up an agency.

Delivering a proposition that's fresh, different and distinctive. The world doesn't need another advertising agency. So many start-ups talk about their new approach, and then serve up a generic offering.

Ensuring that we put clients and client thinking at the very centre of our business. Your founding clients define you, so you better make sure they are like-minded.

Building our talent base very tightly around idea-generating capability. I would want strategists who were data-literate, creatives who were tech-confident and a group of "can do" people who could make it all happen. Everyone would need to manage brilliant client relationships. By the way, you don't have to be a start-up to focus on all that.

Neil Simpson, chief executive, Publicis London
I'd agree that it really is some of the most exciting times in our business, but it will only work for the new start-up if it approaches things with a fresh formation and avoids making the structure too traditional. The most important thing is that the agency is flexible, so that it can revolve around the whole spectrum of solutions that a client desires.

However, it ultimately comes down to partnerships that you make with clients, media companies, digital media owners etc. You need people who can build up those partnerships so that you appear interesting to the relevant people.

Matt Edwards, managing director, Engine
Ten years ago, this would have been an easier question to answer.

Three guys in a room above a shop can easily create a better poster than the biggest agency in town, provided they've got the talent.

Today, it's much more difficult to satisfy clients wanting a co-ordinated approach to everything from digital to direct, sponsorship to social.

So I'd go for the Saturn model - a strong core planet of senior, experienced marketing minds at the centre, surrounded by rings of associates. The core helps clients to understand the real marketing drivers for their business, creates a unifying strategy and brand idea and project manages the associates. The associates provide niche expertise and production ability.

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