Four lessons after Goodstuff's first full year as an independent agency
A view from Andrew Stephens

Four lessons after Goodstuff's first full year as an independent agency

Goodstuff's co-founder shares lessons from the agency a year after it parted company with Omnicom.

365 days to the day, we woke up with what at the time felt like enormous holes in our pockets, but emotionally we felt somewhat richer. A proper hangover too if memory serves me well. 

For on 1 April 2017, we agreed to part company with Omnicom Media Group and buy ourselves full independence… and yes, the irony of signing away a small fortune on April Fool’s Day hasn’t been lost on us either. 

And so, with a full year of independence under our belt and Media Week’s Agency of the Year crown on our head, what have we learnt about our solo journey so far? 

1. We’ve a lot to thank Omnicom for 

While we’re now fully focused on building the independent sector, we wouldn’t be where we are today had it not been for the support of Omnicom Media Group, particularly during our formation in 2004, our move into media buying in 2012 and the professional uncoupling last year. And although we’re going our separate ways for our own mutual reasons, I would encourage the wider network media groups to consider taking minority investments in media start-ups to freshen up and diversify client offerings. When the basic principle and benefits of scale are being questioned by clients, network agencies need to consider other routes to market.

2. Indies are in rude health 

As our soon to be launched book, The Age of Independence, will chronical, indie agencies are experiencing an unprecedented level of growth and potential. To put this in number terms, the top 100 media agencies in 2017 grew by £218m while network agencies fell by £223m. In fact, if the indies in the top 100 came together, we’d be the second-biggest buying group in the UK with £1.6bn, £200m above Omnicom. 

It’s in part why most of the positive and exciting news is coming out of independent agencies – Goodstuff is Media Week’s Agency of the Year, the7stars is Campaign’s Agency of the Year and the new kids on the block Craft, Bountiful Cow, Truth and Crossmedia are all future stars and fiercely independent in their own right. 

It’s easy to see why and as mentioned above, clients are questioning the fundamentals of using the aggregated buying houses and looking at new media ecosystems with service, strategy, flexibility, control and transparency at the centre 

3. Goodstuff needs to grow up. Disgracefully 

We’ve always been told by those we respect never to forget where you’ve come from and not lose sight of what’s makes us, us. 

For we’ve never exactly been a conventional media agency; inspired by Virgin, founded by ex-creative agency types, starting out as a comms specialist going full-service in 2012 and putting ambitious work ahead of margins. 

But recently, as we passed £100m and 100 Goodstuffers, we’ve found ourselves nearly falling foul of this.  

Nearly starting to act like a big agency, nearly spending too much time over-analysing client margins and how much our beer allowance should be. 

Thankfully, we didn’t. We checked ourselves in time and put happy people, great work and delighting clients back at the top of our agenda again. 

The margins will just have to wait another year. 

4. The best time to change is now 

 Change is best when it’s planned and ideally after a major success. And that is exactly what we’re doing. We’re not entirely sure ourselves what it will be yet, but change, twist and surprise our competitors is what we will be doing. And soon. 

Andrew Stephens is the co-founder of Goodstuff