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What does growth mean for your agency?

Is it increasing your customer base, or bulking out your team with more talent? Perhaps you’re looking for your next round of funding?

Growth can mean different things to agencies at different stages of their journey, but there’s one steadfast theme that should stay front-of-mind, no matter what your strategy looks like, and that’s building ‘appeal’.

In other words, how you’re making yourself attractive to outsiders looking in.

We spoke to quick-growing integrated creative and media agency, YW Istanbul, to help us pinpoint exactly what’s needed for independents to scale up and reach their growth goals. 

Growth’s back on the agenda, but there’s a twist.

Before we dig into the three pillars, here’s some important pandemic-related context.

As expected, some agencies suffered during the pandemic, whilst others thrived. 

What it did impact was their ability to grow. And that was, almost exclusively, because winning new retainers became harder. Big businesses put the shackles on their budgets, meaning (at best) the opportunity to win new business and upsell existing clients was paused, and (at worst) some even cancelled or froze their agency retainers.

Our friend Chris Platt, Director at full-service marketing agency, BCM, spells it out: 

“Big retainers provide security and consistency of sizable revenue. This naturally lets us plan our own business ahead further, without the need for being reactive.”

Without that security, the opportunity for steady, scalable growth diminished. So agencies (being highly adaptable) pivoted towards other means of bolstering revenue.

But now budgets are being released and winning retainers is back on the agenda, there’s a new problem agencies are swerving. 

And that’s attracting talent to meet demand. Segue into the first pillar for agency growth.

Pillar 1: Attract (and retain) talent by offering fulfilment.

The search for talent during the pandemic has been relentless, and it’s set to remain a challenge as we move into 2022. 

Spring 80:20 (a company specializing in providing insights and training for agencies) goes as far as to say, “many will struggle to grow next year due to a lack of resources, rather than a lack of business.”

But before you kick your search into high gear, a little soul searching is in order. 

Is your agency an appealing place to work? It’s not as simple as shouting about healthcare, beer fridges and pastry Thursdays. What people really care about is getting value from their time spent working, and we’ve got the data to prove it. 

Just a quick scan at GWI Work shows: 

51% of millennials say getting access to the information and data they need to do their job is challenging. 

A large portion of that comes down to not having the structures in place that allow them to fulfill their roles effectively and grow their capabilities.

A case in point: researchers want to learn and grow.

Let’s zone in on one type of professional: researchers. In order to be truly effective in their roles, there are a couple of basic things that should be in place.

1. Data sources, and ideally ones that allow them to pull and analyze data.

2. Somewhere to process the data like Excel or Google Docs.

But not all tools were made equal, and as anyone working in the world of research will know, your work output is only as good as the sources you use – and it seems there’s a deficit somewhere:

30% of researchers say keeping up with the latest IT and using it effectively is a challenge companies face. 

It’s why GWI’s platform was built with reliability, speed and simplicity at its core – so when researchers need answers fast, they know where to turn.

This group is also 28% more likely than average to say learning new skills is important to them.

For YW Istanbul, focusing on growing existing talent is key – not just in the literal sense of expanding the team, but in terms of upskilling them, especially in data usage. 

Serhat Gürcü, Co-founder and Agency President at YW Istanbul, explains how they help their teams develop into the kind of talent the business needs:

“It’s not easy to find insight-oriented creatives, so we invest in upskilling our teams to become fluent in data-led research. In doing so, we achieve growth together.”

So, when attracting talent, it pays to look closely at your working processes first to see if what you offer is appealing. And if you are using the most cutting edge tech and tools that allows professionals to do their jobs effectively and (on a more personal level) develop their skills – shout it from the rooftops. 

Pillar 2: Elevate pitch appeal with data-led validation.

“Lean into the data.” 

It’s a phrase that’s never made more sense.

When the world was looking for answers to their most business-critical questions,  they turned to the numbers for help. 

And as we detail in our guide to winning business for independent agencies, brands – including the enterprise kind – are relying on data-led research more and more to make key decisions.

This is where independent agencies can add serious value to clients.

Selin explains YW’s secret for winning new business:

“Data is what we do, and insights are at the very center of our framework.”

“Every creative is born from audience research, and the whole communication construct is shaped on it. The closer we work with insight to ignite our ideas and execute campaigns, the better the results.”

Chart showing YW approach to audience targeting

But not only does this method give them head-turning results that keep clients smiling and their case studies shimmering, but their data-led approach was also crucial to them winning new business. 

YW saw 100% growth in department revenue and doubled their headcount – and they put it all down to their clever use of data. 

Check out their full story here.

Pillar 3: Adapt to change.  

There are two parts to this. 

The first is keeping your agency’s strategy on the bleeding edge of what’s hot and what’s not. The pace of change in the media world is in overdrive right now, and one channel or format you relied on for results yesterday, might not be so effective tomorrow.

The second part is even trickier – knowing what’s happening in your clients’ individual sectors. 

The first part: keeping your media strategy relevant tomorrow.

We track media trends keenly, and we’ve a ton of data and reports on the topic. So believe us when we say we’re entering a brave new world where the options for reaching audiences are nearly endless. 

Agencies are brilliant at adapting to change, and with more channels and formats emerging on the daily, there’s more ways to get results, target niche and engaged audiences and ultimately drive ROI for clients.

But just because it’s new, doesn’t mean it will work. Having a data-driven approach to your media strategy is what keeps it open to fresh ways of thinking, while keeping ROI front-of-mind.

The second part: are your clients staying on top of the right trends?

Keeping up with industry trends is tough. Most independent agencies have plenty of clients across multiple sectors – making it even tougher. 

And when clients need answers fast (as they do in today’s climate) it’s a highly attractive trait to be able to provide them at a moment’s notice. With a consumer research tool that’s super easy to use for anyone (not just analysts), providing mission-critical trends and insights on each sector is what gives clients the power to shift with the changing tide.  

Build your capabilities, and they will come.

There’s more than one way to grow a business. But it always boils down how well you can project yourself outwards.

Whether it’s attracting talent, or drumming up whopping retainers, it starts with looking internally at whether you consider yourself an attractive prospect. 

Improving how you work, focussing on employee fulfillment, and keeping your strategy flexible and fresh is what really matters to outsiders looking in.

Make your shop window as appealing as possible, and people can’t help but wander in.

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