I’m no actor, but how else do you describe the career path of chef, agency, in-house and then back to agency again (all unrelated to my degree in Criminology)?
I started my career at a large global agency and then moved to another one till after a decade, moving to TomTom in Amsterdam for two years and then coming back to the UK for comms roles at Kaspersky and Sage Group. And now I’m back agency side heading up EMEA for Cognito. In order to give this unusual career trajectory credence, I’ve taken to describing my career path as non-linear. It makes the random nature seem more deliberate and part of some grand plan.
I shan’t satisfy the reader by telling you which it is because it doesn’t matter. What matters is what experience and lessons a non-linear career path gives you. And for me the key is the diversity of experience, both in terms of actual direct experience but also in those you work with.
I’m excited to be back in agency and what I want to talk about was what I’ve learned in my years in-house now I’m back on the dark side.
Some days 99% of a client’s time is not really PR
A big mistake made by agencies is thinking their client is focused on the exact same things as they are all the time. They’re not. They are in meetings, collaborating with colleagues, training, planning, reporting, meetings again, budgeting and planning for crises.
It’s more important to get it over on time even if it has a mistake
PR agencies often confuse deadlines for quality. The odds are that 95% of the time, the deadline is arbitrary in order to have time to review. The reason for this is to check for quality. I think I coined the phrase ‘the in-house eye-roll’ to refer to the look on an in-house comms face when asked about quality control of their agency. It’s really quite simple. If the quality is low, then the trust in the content is low, then the likelihood of being asked to do more is zero.
That’s not in the scope of work, we need to charge for it
Being inflexible around scopes of work makes no sense. At no point are scopes done exactly as defined each month, over a 12 month period. So if some advice from outside the team is sought, don’t automatically charge for it. The reason agencies do this is because of ring-fenced P&Ls. But from a client’s perspective they are buying the people in the team that belongs to a certain agency – it’s both.
Let’s “do” lunch
Eugh. I love a long lunch as much as the next person, but as a client, it’s not convenient from a time perspective nor appropriate from a booze perspective.
We work very closely with our digital and social teams
This is very commonly said. But when it’s not really true, it is very evident to the client when teams don’t really work together. So say it, yes, but only if it’s actually true.
What does this mean for agencies?
· Diversity is not hiring a journalist – expand the pool of entrants along all variables
· Get in your client’s slipstream – don’t stay in your lane
· Quality, quality, quality. Really, it is that simple
· Be flexible, don’t let your P&L and internal structures inhibit great consultancy
· Boozy get togethers are fading in relevance, try something different
· Innovate constantly. Our industry just does the same thing slightly differently for each of its clients. It needs to make doing things differently feel more like the same.
The reality is that very little of this is new. PR continues to evolve at a glacial pace, with change driven more by client need. There’s a huge opportunity to challenge the hegemony.
We at Cognito are doing that and will continue to challenge ourselves. We can out as a truly integrated comms and marketing agency. As we evolve, we’ll get some things wrong, for sure. But as with tech investments, you just need a few of them to come off to really make a difference. And ultimately that is what we want to do, try doing things differently to positively benefit the industry overall.
Sebastian Mathews is the managing director of EMEA for Cogntio