Monday, December 16, 2019

How to Make Your Agency Hireable

Well, it's been a fair few months since I moved role and went clients side. It's been busy, but interesting.

What have I been doing? I moved house and job, rebranded a multi-million-pound company - including assets ranging from new livery on fifty vehicles and every bit of stationery and stickering, to a full website rebuild and creation of our new identity in line with our brand traits and goals. I've launched several exclusive (and major) product ranges into the UK market (from Italy and Germany) plus relaunched all their social channels (adding 1,000s of new organic followers onto their LinkedIn). I launched tens of grands worth of automotive-specific PR campaign, shot numerous corporate and explainer videos and toured half of Europe at tradeshows and supplier factories (while raising my knowledge of our suppliers' products and our market). It's been busy, but probably not quite as busy as agency life.

Not being agency side I've had less reason to put digits to the keyboard by way of this blog. I've not been short, however, of valuable and interesting interactions with agencies where I feel any of my regular readers might benefit from some of my experiences. I am, after all, now the CLIENT and not the agency departmental head. This has made me realise how our industry looks at us (or is it them?) from a new perspective.

I'll take this slowly. Let's start with...

Hiring an agency.

Guess what? Your job (as an agency) is to make my job (as Senior Marketing Manager of the largest independent workshop design, installation, supply and equipment providers in the UK) easier. It's to make ANY clients job easier. This was evidently a shock to some of the agencies I interviewed. I don't want to sound preachy here, just cautionary and this is purely based on observation. I spend my first month in the job recruiting. The reaction - and I'm spending hundreds of thousands of pounds here - was mixed to say the least, ESPECIALLY (and I hate to say this) from digital and creative agencies.

I work for a family-run engineering company in East Yorkshire. We don't stand on ceremony. Our clients are high-end brands like Maserati, Audi, BMW, Porsche, Lamborghini, Jaguar Land Rover, etc. Our clients have high standards and so do we. We don't have time or inclination to listen to you fluff yourself or to wade through forty pages of cut and paste before we get to the costs and our KPIs. We don't want to listen to you talk in your language, we want you to talk in ours. We're made of engineers, CAD designers, petrol heads, technicians, racing drivers and every single one of us (myself included) could fix a 2.25 Series 2 petrol engine with a bent chocolate screwdriver and half a house brick. Our company is purpose-driven, entrepreneurial at heart, and built on a few core beliefs. To say that we're 'no-nonsense' is probably a staggering understatement.

The rest of the company is certainly not used to dealing with the likes of creative, digital, branding, PR or marketing agencies - which is why they employ me. Many of the stakeholders are openly sceptical. A part of my job, by necessity, had to become filtering the agencies I spoke to in order to find which were capable of working with us, above and beyond their creds or skillset. Who can talk like we talk? Who can understand the needs of our business and our industry? Who can adapt? Who can speak in plain English and offer identifiable results? Who at least has BDMs and account managers with a foot in both worlds? To be honest, it was a fairly shallow pool.

Having decided early on that a rebrand was one of my first steps, I started by putting feelers out and looking at local agencies in the Yorkshire area, including Leeds. Branding and creative agencies have their own language and attitude. It's a part of what makes them who they are and promotes the creative process. Individuals in such agencies, however, are invariably inappropriate to put in a board meeting with sceptical accountants and engineers from Hull. I found it amazing that, despite clearly working across multiple markets and discipline, most of them didn't use account managers or BDMS, but rather sideways-promoted existing staff or directors (steeped in the creative language and process). I'm sorry to say that I repeatedly got the impression - justified or otherwise - that, despite making £14m last year, we were somehow beneath them.

The branding and creative agency we finally chose is based in Leeds and, immediately, gave the impression they understood our industry. Their website was specifically tailored to manufacturing, engineering and B2B - which was an immediate draw. They'd drunk from their own vat of grape-flavoured drink and embraced a specific market. They'd made the conscious decision to not be all things to all men. When a branding agency pitches themselves this way you know it's a deliberate decision and you know they can clearly do their job.

Side tip: Don't be (yet another) a full-service agency - show your strengths and specialisms - you can upsell later once they trust you. Few folks have funds to spend on everything at once anyway.

I was met in their offices by one of their Directors who had given me a stalk on Twitter, found I'm a self-identifying coffee snob, and took me out for the best brew in the area. I'm not quite that easy, but it got my attention. I laid out our requirements and he engaged and asked questions. He'd visited our site and social channels. He'd looked at our Directors LinkedIn profiles. In many ways, he'd prepared for our meeting as though he'd prepared for an interview - which, in many ways, was exactly what was happening. He asked the early questions. He asked about time scales. He asked if I had buy-in from our directors. He asked about possible roadblocks. He was interested and curious. He was prepared to give us what I wanted - a single page Chinese menu/flowchart of tasks highlighting the process, with descriptions and costs. Simple and easy to print out and share when the time came for me to secure internal funding. He was making my life easier.

Within two days we had that page, their creds, and a further explainer (if we wanted to read it) of each part of the process. No free pens, branded moleskin notebooks, or other bollocks. This was all presented in a video (with screen sharing) from their director (my contact) and via their offices, to ease the process and introduce the document. A great balance of functionality, information, presentation and face-to-face efficiency. Yes, it was a formula, but it was a good formula.

We also had an offer of a presentation on the process, live, with our directors and stakeholders. This would be the first step for many into the branding and creative process, discussing the value (hidden and deliberate) of the process. We took them up on this and our directors got a lot from it and truly realised the value of branding above and beyond what I could explain to them from my passing knowledge.

Out of the twelve companies I met face-to-face, they were the only ones which gave me any form of confidence that they would go the extra mile to understand our business. No other agency I met even came close to this level of service and interest. To be honest, on the whole, I got a general impression that people weren't interested, and we just weren't stimulating or glamorous enough to be beneficial to their portfolio. They felt lazy and (one in particular) bored. They liked the sound of our turnover but, basically, didn't try to have a foot in our world. Again, I come back to looking for an agency who is going to make my job easier. An agency is not doing me a favour by letting me into their creative club - I need them to provide a service.

1) How does one achieve this? Firstly, employ a competent front person to lead sales and customer liaison. Have an individual who can have a foot in both worlds - in that of the client and that of their colleagues. Unless the client specifically wants to meet the team, they don't care - show us your developments and results. We're unlikely to actually care about your hipster culture (says the former agency proto-hipster). We will, however, probably want to meet your office dog if you have one.

2) Make things easy. Have a summary page with titles, descriptions and costs. Expand on this elsewhere, but keep it easy to digest - we're not stupid but we are short on time and have another six or eight of these pitches to go through.

3) Give the client clear steps. Think of the creative process like a flow chart with investigation, content, decisions and dependencies. Assume the client isn't an expert but has a broad knowledge. Use clear language and avoid using your own industry terms unless you explain these to the client in person (you can't rely on them reading a glossary). Surely there's an easier way to say "We build omnichannel marketing personalisation to foster brand trust" that doesn't make we want to set your offices on fire?

4)  Pricing is always important. I was quoted £750 a day for link building - for what is, essentially, unguaranteed and 'nebulous' results? No, no matter how good you might think you are. We have to justify and/or get clearance on our budgets. Keep it real. Equally, underpricing makes people sceptical that you have relevant contacts or experience. Be realistic.

5) Old colleagues. If you know you can trust people - maybe you've worked together previously in an agency or on a different contract - you ask them to pitch. It's not 'jobs-for-the-boys' (or girls) it's a case of familiarity, known compatible process and giving competent folks the opportunity to pitch. This is how we ended up working with our current SEO and PPC agency. They also explained their process and the theory of digital marketing to our directors and stakeholders, in person, at no charge to promote clarity and value. Stay in touch. Send Christmas cards. Offer to be of help. Be excellent to each other. If you're good I'll use you again and put a word in. LinkedIn recommendations all 'round. It makes my life easier.

It's pretty basic really... Be a benchmark for things to come. Make your future customers' lives easier. Be competitive. Don't treat them like an idiot but don't over complicate things.

If this is of use to anyone let me know. I'll add bits to the blog as I see them from client-side and try to keep this a bit more up-to-date. Considering what we've achieved in the last six months I can't really say it's been a relaxing experience, but it's not as 'all-hands-to-the-pumps' as my former ten years in agency.

Anyway, I'd rather be busy than bored.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Pastures New.

The time has come, the walrus said, for this jaded old adventurer to pack up his staff and head back north to find himself a single brand that needs his particular school of manipulation magic.

With the help of a LinkedIn job seekers account and the understanding of the good folks at Tank, I'm moving house and role some two hours up the A1 to the East Riding of Yorkshire. I'll be taking up a new position as Senior Marketing Manager for JD Garage Equipment, the UK's leading independent designer and supplier of workshop and engineering equipment. No more delicious coffee from Outpost Coffee Roasters (unless I buy it online), hipster vintage shops or sly breakfasts at Flavours in Hockley.

The last five years with Tank have been a pleasure and I'll miss the team dearly, but the future calls and I need to be closer to family. Tank has evolved to be a veritable PR and digital powerhouse and it's been a pleasure to watch the team grow around Trevor's vision. The Midlands has been very kind to me, but I miss my roots. My favourite brands have always been the B2B, tech, engineering, mechanical, AI, mining and automotive... so JDGE is a win from the beginning. A challenge keeps this old brain fresh and thinking, plus James and Nick Everard - the two brothers who own this multi-million-pound company - have offered me virtual autonomy with solid plans for video and outreach. Our clients range from BMW and Lambogini to Audi, Maserati, Porche, Jaguar Land Rover, Mercedes Benz and even high-end commercial repair and spray shops. More of an all-'round role, it'll be a joy to do more work behind-the-camera and get my hands dirty again.

I've found a converted barn in North Newbald, only 10 minutes from work, with its own water supply and a walled garden for the pooch - very handy in a zombie apocalypse. The electrics and plumbing are shocking, but I don't mind a project. To put North Newbald into context, it's home to the whipping post used in the last public flogging carried out in Britain and the phrase "He's a bit Newbold" is used locally to describe someone who, shall we say, 'thinks outside of the box.' The beast can come into the office (on a trial basis) and there's great walking along national trails and around the wind farms of Sober Hill.

I'll be carrying on this blog, potentially more frequently as there are fewer distractions out in the middle of the Yorkshire Wolds. Heck, I may even have a go at vlogging (if I can think of a suitable topic that wouldn't just work better as a podcast) now I've got a decent 4k phone.

I wish all the team at Tank, and my old friend Star Commander Palmer, the very best for the future. H, Lou, Claire, Dex, Molly, Eileen, Addie, Stoney, Michelle, J-Dogg, Ed, Dan, Fi and the rest, I can't recommend their diligence and professionalism and sheer team talent more highly. They are spacemen (and spaceladies) amongst monkeys. I achieved what I achieved at Tank by standing on the shoulders of giants.

Watch this space, and thanks to everyone who put the word out for me while I was looking.

I suppose I'll now be commenting from client side, rather than agency side? This could be fun...

Thursday, February 07, 2019

How do you go Incognito When Viewing LinkedIn Profiles?

Finally updated:

A colleague of mine at Tank was conducting some private research the other day, and asked me a question I had to think about: "How do you go incognito when looking at other peoples LinkedIn profiles?"

This is actually pretty simple, and I see it all the time in my 'Who's Viewed Your Profile' area. It's strange, but I think we all view the words "This member chose to be shown as anonymous" with a degree of suspicion and annoyance, but people do it for a variety of reasons. While it does niggle me that I pay to see who'd been looking at my profile and this is easily circumnavigated, I do see why some folks (especially recruiters and researchers working via their private profiles) might want the benefits of a little smoke and mirrors.

nothing to see here - just passing through

Anonymity isn't natural for social channels. Visibility and transparency drive ad revenue and promote engagement. As a consequence, the ability to do things like this are often hidden away and not as easy to find as we might like. As such, you'll not find this information easily unless you go looking for it:

Click the 'Me' icon (the little round picture) at the top right of your homepage then select 'Settings & Privacy' from the drop-down, to get to your settings page.

Under 'Privacy' tab there are a few interesting options worth exploring, but the one we're looking for in this instance (scroll down a bit) is under 'How others see your LinkedIn activity'. Click on the 'Change' prompt under the Profile viewing options.

Select what others see when you're viewing their profile'. You'll then get 3 options like below.

Pick an option - normal, enigmatic, or full-on spy - and it'll autosave.

Bear in mind, this is your settings from now on. If you want this to go back to how it was you'll need to reset this using the same process as last time. Remember, LinkedIn is about connections. Keeping your profile like this, long-term kinda defeats the object.


Here's a little extra something that came about after sharing this on Twitter, by Trever Faden.

Try InCognito. It's a nice bit of kit if you've a need for stuff like this.

PS: If you'd like to connect with me on LinkedIn, let's do it.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Is it Legal to use Movie GIFs in Social Media Posts?

I get asked this A LOT.

I love a good GIF - you only have to look at my Twitter - and I'd even say that using them to illustrate my posts and for commentary (with mostly pop-culture and film orientated clips) is a big part of my personal visual brand. Copyright and regional legislation is a confusing nightmare on GIF usage, so here's my 'official' (what I tell clients and panicky account managers) and 'all in one place' take on the matter.

Fair Usage

It all depends on how you define 'fair usage'. Put simply, this means that if the original content is used for a "transformative" and limited reason, like a parody, for commentary or criticism (again, see my Twitter) it's ok under US and UK law.

Transformative means that they are using the source work in a totally new or 'unexpected' way - like remixes by Pogo or CassetteBoy. This is because they don't undermine the market for the original work. Basically, people aren't going to watch a Mad Men or Parks and Rec. GIF instead of watching the original programme.

Fair use law creates an opening for copyrighted material to be remixed and repurposed, as long as the new use doesn't create any economic competition for the people or organisation that holds the actual copyright - yes, you can make money out of sound bites etc., within reason.

What are your intentions?

Where it gets tricky is the notion of 'intellectual property' and intent. If you own footage it's (obviously) cool to make GIFs out of it, but if you don't (like, say, making GIFs out of footage of sporting events and tweeting them out saying "Goal!") that's naughty. Why? Because the original content is made to show just that - goals - and pulling out the highlights devalues the original. During the Olympics, the International Olympic Committee had a zero tolerance, no-GIF policy, for this very reason. The owner of the footage would be perfectly within their rights to slap you with a cease and desist order and sue your plagiarist ass.

Another area is individual representation. By this, I mean that performers and celebs have the right to use local "right of publicity" laws that let public figures control how their image is used. This is usually applied to defamatory actions and mash-ups, however, rather than just clips - though how the clip is associated (for example, politically) could be a trigger for this. Don't take people out of context or repurpose them (too much).

On the whole, if you want to be sure, get written permission from the copyright holder and any actors, embed GIF content that's not our own (and let the site you link to take the heat - thanks Giphy) or make your own GIFs from our original content. Avoid sports, especially recent stuff. I'm an individual, not a brand, my personal accounts are totally a different matter and I'm comfy with that - do as I say (to be sure) not as I do. Use those that are inherent to platforms - use those provided IN Twitter, Facebook etc. then (while not ideal) it's down to the platform.

Clear as mud? In short, yes, you're probably ok. Legally it's a grey area, just don't use them in a defamatory way or for financial gain and don't take the piss. If you're a business/brand jump through some hoops.