Life as an independent agency

Recently, Armadillo CEO James Ray sat down with Everybody Hates your Brand podcast host and marketing veteran, Rob Voase, to discuss life as an independent agency, where the industry is headed and the impact of the pandemic. 

It was a wide-ranging discussion – we’ve summarised some of the great questions and topics covered by Rob and James throughout the podcast: 

What are some of the benefits of being an independent agency? 

There’s a certain freedom of movement. We are driven as an agency by what drives me and my fellow board members and that’s delivery of results for our clients. That’s the thing I get the thrill out of. Because we don’t have to worry about delivering a dividend to shareholders or putting a certain amount of profit into a group P&L we can pursue that fairly single-mindedly and so far, that’s translated through into a strong business performance as well.  

What are some of the biggest challenges? 

We don’t have access to some of the resources that some of our bigger networked competitive agencies might have. I also think there’s something in having critical mass for central functions like marketing – a proportion of our revenue doesn’t cover whole heads in the way that theirs would.  

That being said, I think on balance I’m happier with the mix that we’ve got.  

What impact has being in Bath originally, and now Bristol, had on your growth or recruitment? 

Historically recruitment has been harder, but we have been very successful in finding great talent. Bristol is a city that generally has a strong appeal to people who’ve worked in London but are looking for a change in style. It’s a very cool city and it’s got a fantastic vibe. It’s contemporary but chilled out and so we do get a lot of talented people coming to the city which helps. There’s also a really strong base of creative and technology industries in the city too.  

And also, it’s changing. We haven’t been in a physical office for nearly a year. That’s also meant that ¾ of the people we’ve recruited in the last six or nine months actually haven’t been in the geographical orbit of Bristol.  

If you read the marketing press, you’d think that the agency model is beset from all sides whether that’s clients taking work in house or large consulting firms moving into this world. How much of that have you started to see and does being a specialist sort of insulate you from that somewhat?  

You’re right. Those forces are definitely out there. We’ve seen a mixed bag. We’ve got clients that use different mixes of all of the parts of our proposition that we offer. Some of them use all of it. Some of them use this bit and that bit. I think part of the key to that for us is developing an operating model that allows us to give clients all of it or bits of it that still works financially for us as well as delivering them with what they need.  

I think being able to flex around what our clients are already good at is important. I don’t see the point in trying to sell clients a service they don’t really need. 

Does being independent help with that flexibility?  

It does because we still have the luxury of being able to work for clients where it’s just that the work is exciting and motivating.  

But also, actually, I think we’ve worked very hard in the last year to make that model a lot more scalable because it does give us a competitive advantage in truth. 

Thinking about those forces at play, what is the one thing you think will have the largest impact in two to five years on the agency model? 

Honestly, I think it’s technology. Technology is the thing that continually disrupts the whole industry. I think what clients look for, and what they will always need, is creativity. In our world, it means using technology, data, insight and strategy to deliver a direct-to-consumer campaign that drives results. It’s the creativity and the use of all of those disciplines that we add that gives clients what they need. Technology will change things but if agencies can make sure that they’re evolving how they do their creativity in that changed environment then there will still be a need for those agencies.  

Listen to the full podcast episode at Everybody Hates your Brand Podcast. There James goes on to discuss Covid’s industry impact and the future of CRM.