Bob Willott: editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence
Bob Willott: editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence
A view from Bob Willott

Think BR: Can agency start-ups offer anything new?

It used to be that the best agency start ups were born during recessions, but Bob Willott questions whether that is the case any more.

Every new agency is expected to offer something new - a unique selling proposition or at least a point of difference.  

But it’s easier said than done and on reflection that may be a good thing. Certainly the impression gained from reading what some recent start-ups have been saying about themselves is that they offer nothing different but their name.

Indeed in the present economic climate it’s probably time to stop trying to be different, and to simply be better at being the same.

The main driver behind an agency pitch is, as ever, likely to be disappointment with the performance of the incumbent. 

When the economy was booming, agency under-performance could be masked by improved sales despite ineffective advertising. So the client remained content. 

But when the going got tougher, the situation changed very quickly. Now clients just want consistently effective ads from a consistently reliable agency. No gimmicks. No uniquely meaningless unique selling propositions. Just results. 

That might be a point of difference, but it’s seriously worrying if it is.

Can a new agency prove itself to be more effective, more efficient, and more reliable than an established one?

Theoretically the answer must be "yes". But by definition a start-up doesn’t have a track record to prove it.  And maybe the economic climate is one that deters clients from taking risks with new agencies anyway.

In times of recession, clients tend to play safe and opt for established agencies with a good track record.  

Occasionally they will take a risk with a newly launched agency, particularly if it's led by a team with proven talent that has hitherto been trapped within the straitjacket of a big conservative agency.

But for as long as the marketplace remains tough, clients just want more sales, not fancy new sales pitches from fancy new agencies. 

Any agency that can provide a truly appealing solution to a client’s need - and a solution that works - deserves to win business. That doesn’t require a unique type of agency, just an effective one.

In the latter part of the twentieth century there was both room, and a need, for better creativity based on better planned campaigns.  

For too long the industry was dominated by big name global groups that had become process driven and conservative in outlook. 

The arrival of Abbott Mead Vickers, Boase Massimi Pollitt, Lowe Howard Spink, WCRS and Bartle Bogle Hegarty, to name just a few, offered a genuinely better alternative.  

Today it is harder to find the equivalents of those agencies in a market that seems to be swamped with choice but not with calibre.

Bob Willott is editor of Marketing Services Financial Intelligence