Creative agencies need to stop treating sales like a dirty word

There’s a lot of snobs in this industry. I found that out 12 months ago when I tried to hire a B2B marketing agency.

Part of my role as creative director at Hype Collective – which I helped setup around two years ago – involves overseeing the agency’s marketing efforts. The primary objective of our marketing efforts was pretty simple: we wanted to generate leads.

We’d had a lot of success with an approach which effectively integrated content marketing, media relations and – critically – outbound sales.

It was simple but effective. We started with an industry pain point – typically a lack of knowledge around a subject. We’d then form a steering group to address this pain point and – along with our steering group – set about solving this ‘pain point’. This often took the form of a piece of research, which we could share with our steering group, our prospects and the media, too.

Addressing these pain points took many different forms, the simplest being a research report.

Building relationships as well as reach

This steering group was far and away the most valuable part of this campaign, because it gave us something to approach the big brands with. It allowed us to start a conversation with them about who we were and what we stood for (better audience understanding in the youth marketing space).

Sometimes these conversations led to nothing. Sometimes they led to leads, briefs and – the holy grail – new client wins. The Work Issue, for example, led us to winning what is now Hype Collective’s second biggest client.

On top of all of this they delivered great media coverage and drove traffic to our site.

In short, they got results.

We just wanted to agree a direction, sign a check, and see our managing director’s diary filled with meetings.

We did all of this work in-house. Largely because, at the start, we had no money. We were an agency that launched with no funding, so spending thousands of pounds outsourcing this whole process to an agency wasn’t an option.

But then we grew. Which was great! It meant we had a proper marketing budget for the first time. It also meant we were busy. The obvious solution when these things happen to your company is to look to outsource some of your work. So that’s what we set about doing: finding an agency who could run our marketing efforts.

We needed specific things from this agency to make outsourcing the project worthwhile. We didn’t want to outsource bits to different agencies or freelancers as otherwise we’d spend too much time project managing each various element of the campaign. We just wanted to agree a direction, sign a check, and see our managing director’s diary filled with meetings.

As a youth marketing agency, the production value of these reports was critical. They needed to look fit and not read like a white paper (even though that’s exactly what they were). So whichever agency we went with needed to be able to produce not just good copy, but good design too.

But we also needed an agency who could hit the phones and get leads into the funnel.

Ideally, we’d find an agency that could generate media coverage around these campaigns, too. But we knew asking for creative, sales and media relations from a single agency was a big ask.

We couldn’t find these things in an agency. We found sales agencies who couldn’t deliver good creative. We found creative agencies who had no interest in delivering leads. We didn’t find one that could do both, let alone deliver media coverage on top.

So we decided to launch an agency that could do all three

The lack of good creative work from sales agencies wasn’t surprising. You need a creative team to deliver good creative work and we knew going in to the process none of the agencies we were speaking to had invested in that area.

That lack of any business development capabilities from creative agencies was much more frustrating. Mostly because of how the agencies talked about these services. ‘Outbound, as in sales?’ one of them said, when we asked them whether they could generate meetings. They spat ‘sales’ out like the word itself wreaked.

This was frustrating. But it was exciting, too. Because we knew if we could take the approach we’d developed for Hype Collective and spin it out it would be a powerful proposition.

I’ve yet to see an agency launch without talking about how they’re doing something different. But considering this agency was born out of the frustration that something didn’t already exist, hopefully this statement actually means something this time.

Integrated marketing: where is sales?

Look at the way any modern PR agency describes itself, and they’ll probably talk about integration. Look at any B2B marketing brief, and there’s a pretty good chance they’ll talk about generating leads.

Comms agencies have integrated everything into their service offering – from influencer relations to content production to paid media – and yet finding an agency that had integrated sales into this process was what stumped us. Which is weird, when you think about it. We’ve integrated everything that generates sales into our marketing efforts, apart from the act of sales itself.

So that’s what we’re going to do differently. It’s not rocket science, but it works.

Are we a creative agency or a sales agency or a comms agency? I’m not really going to get hung up on that. We are, at its simplest, a B2B agency that gets results.

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