Sara Gordon (Photo: Tom Griffiths)
Sara Gordon (Photo: Tom Griffiths)
A view from Sara Gordon

Why the time has come for agencies to put on their consultancy caps

Sara Gordon, brand and creative director at Bloom & Wild, and Campaign 2017 Digital Mavericks alumna, shares her lessons from the ladder.

Many of my Friday evenings are spent transfixed on the content of Scott Galloway’s "No Mercy, No Malice" e-mail and the string of videos that often find the NYU Stern professor of marketing topless or ripping one particular industry to shreds.

As an American in the UK, I find it refreshing to have someone be truly blunt about what’s what. His principle of "fighting unfair", meaning exploiting unfair advantage to overtake competitors and grow, is what I think the industry can learn from in a very ruthless way. Scott cites the tech giants when he tells this story, with their ability to borrow money at lower rates than China, test business ideas and exploit sectors with such pace; one wonders - how can we keep up?

The royal "we" here is, of course, the agency world, one plagued with many a pitch deck and case study with absolutely zero data to show where value was added or percentage grown over time. So how do you "fight unfair" to win over clients and hire the best data-driven talent money can buy? Here’s a hint: it’s not AI.

Tear a page out of the start-up pitch

When we fundraise with investors, everything from our business model to our customer acquisition cost is scrutinised and questioned. Our growth plans, and every lever that can be pulled is laid out with ambitious objectives to propel us forward to take on Goliath.

Often, clients will ask agencies to improve engagement or create some cool content. Your advantage is to unpick the business to truly understand what will move the dial. Sales growth, repeat rate and scalability are terms that never get old for clients, ones which are only cracked by understanding the business model, growth plans and levers the brand can pull. Put your consultant cap on before the creative work even starts; we now live in the age of brand performance, not just performance marketing or brand.

Playing unfair in the world of brand and marketing is simple - tackle the rigorous discipline no one wants to upskill in and master it. Down with data? Think about personalisation and remarketing in a new way to reframe your proposition. Understand how to optimise ads and site journeys to improve performance? Check. Are you the creative who also delves deep into audience types and click-through rates? Brilliant.

What most heritage brands are great at is brand storytelling. They’re masters of television, experiential and emotion. They’re also the brands held up with transformation projects, playing catch-up to the nimble, smaller guys. If you can lead your small to mid-sized client to strong growth, build better technology and enhance the brand experience, your client will have the cash to reinvest in your relationship and new channels and experiences.

But what about creative?

When I interview designers, I always ask, "What was your best performing piece of creative?" If they don’t know, I typically wonder what their previous manager had fed back to them about their work and development. Were the briefs right? What did they learn?

Rigour is not the antithesis of creativity. The point is that the industry now more than ever is driven by survival of the fittest and the definition of creativity in our era of marketing has drastically changed. The top brands and firms hire specialists with a double blade of business acumen and creative thinking. Be the PR firm that brokers the commercial partnership and improves your client’s SEO or the freelance writer whose new tone of voice shapes the brand and improves sales.

Redrawing the industry to be as commercial as it is creative will help agencies not only attract and retain better clients, but also better talent.