2020: The year of greater agency collaboration

Charlie Spargo's picture
Matthew Williams, Quba

Quba's Owner and MD, Matthew Williams, is optimistic about this coming year. Reflecting on what went well in 2019, he explains that collaboration between specialists is much more important than being a Jack-of-all-trades.

2019 was an interesting and turbulent year - to say the least - but we all got through it and I’d like to think there’s an air of optimism as we have the whole of 2020 laid out in front of us.

Much of our success in 2019 has been down to an outward-looking and collaborative approach to how we do business; and I believe that way of working will be one of the biggest trends and growth areas for the entire marketing and digital sectors.

Put collaboration at the heart of what you do

The term ‘collaboration’ does tend to throw up some rather dodgy marketing speak connotations, but it’s all about adding value to our clients. Collaboration is at the heart of everything we do; from how we work with our clients and suppliers, to how we communicate internally.

But more and more, it’s been focussed on working more closely with other agencies who can deliver first-class and complementary services that we don’t offer for the ultimate benefit of our clients.

Let me wind back a bit... In my view, ‘full service agency’ is a bit of a misnomer for most of the companies that claim to be one. You need to be specialists in what you do.

For example, a PR or ad agency that brings in a junior developer to work on small scale projects and then claims to be a digital or ‘full service’ agency isn’t being honest. They’re simply not one.

You can count the number of truly full-service agencies - and more importantly, first-class ones - in the UK on a couple of hands. I don’t want to knock anyone as we’re all trying to do the best we can, but it takes courage to focus on one thing, ignore the noise and do what you do well.

We should all be proud of what we can deliver, but when the need arises the most switched on and commercial firms look outside for the extra skills that are going to add the most value.

Who can meet all a client's requirements?

Take our own sector, for example. The scope and breadth of software used within the marketing and digital industries has expanded exponentially over the last 10 years. For example, software like CMS platforms have become far more complex to build in and they have to do a lot more than just manage page content; the growth of CRMs and marketing automation software has been unprecedented; whilst cloud software such as Azure has taken off in a huge way.

This means that from a technical perspective, all but the very largest of agency networks are able to fully deliver all the potential requirements a client may have via their internal resources. So my question is this: why do companies still feel the need to be seen as full service when they’re not?

The answer is simple - agencies don’t want to turn work away and they don’t want to risk their client looking to others to deliver their projects, so they claim to be all things to all men. However, it doesn’t have to be this way - if only we all started to work together more strategically and openly, by building stronger relationships with other agency partners. We shouldn’t view each other as threats, but as opportunities to grow and develop together.

Specialise to succeed

During 2019 we took the decision to take specialising to the next level at Quba. We decided to pull out of providing SEO and PPC services. We felt the market had become too diverse and that we would actually provide a better service to our clients by using a select number of specialist SEO and PPC partners.

Over the past 12 months, this approach has benefited Quba’s bottom line. By building a trusted network we’ve been able to be 100% transparent with our clients and they really appreciate that honesty. They know who is delivering what and they can see the benefits that collaborative working brings.

This has particularly been the case with our larger and more complex clients as they just want the best tools for the job rather than a one-stop shop. They appreciate quality, insight, strategic knowledge and technical expertise over and above anything else. In the most simplest of terms, they now know that with great agency integration comes great work and first-class results. That’s all they care about.

On a far more practical level, collaboration also makes agencies far more competitive and nimble as it mitigates the need to take on the extra overheads and the expenditure of additional staff, training or technologies in order to service what may only be a short- to medium-term client or requirement. Partnering with another agency removes all of this, as you can spin up the resource quickly and with minimal financial outlay.

My prediction is that collaboration will become much more the norm and the growth in networks like Pimento, Agency Hackers and The Network One clearly backs this up. Agencies just need to become far more open to partnering and realise that it’s the best way to retain clients and provide the highest levels of service.

My advice? Choose your partners carefully to ensure they fit the blend of clients you have, and ensure your clients know you've spent time ensuring you use the best possible partners, and haven’t just pulled them out of a hat. Finally, be loyal to each other, be transparent and work together when things don’t quite go to plan.