PODCAST: Christine MacKay on Agency Culture

PODCAST: Christine MacKay on Agency Culture

What is agency culture? What does it mean to say there’s a great culture in a business? Is it a table tennis table and free beer on Fridays, a fancy coffee machine, or the fact your team can make toast at your expense 24/7? Maybe it’s flexible working or the open-door policy with the exec team.

Well, yes, some of these contribute to culture. But they’re pretty standard offerings from agencies. Culture is so much more. It’s the way you do things. It’s how you look after and develop people, how you communicate. If you research company culture, you’ll probably find all sorts of frameworks, like the cultural web, which can be helpful. But it’s much better to speak with someone running and growing their agency business to see what culture looks like in practice.

Welcome, Christine MacKay, the founder and MD of animation studio Salamandra.

Christine set up the agency eight years ago and now has 16 staff in three locations. Pretty good going, especially considering two years were during the pandemic.

So what makes the culture at Salamandra? It seems to be principally about good communication and taking the time to build personal relationships with your colleagues. At Salamandra, this led to the creation of universally accepted company values that informs how people work and behave, proper onboarding, L&D and a people-centric approach to management.

Listen to our conversation, and you might get some insights into what it takes to build a good agency culture without the need to drop a couple of grand on a coffee machine.

Enjoy the show:

You can reach Christine here:



Other Through the Line episodes and resources you might enjoy:

The Science of Client Relationships with Paul Phillips

Building a Remote Agency with Kathryn Strachan

Winning Agency Pitches with Dan Ince

Have you read our research into client and agency relationships yet?

Lead Scoring Calculator for Agencies

Lead Scoring Calculator for Agencies

If you are responsible for business development at your agency, it’s probably no surprise that you need to properly qualify leads when they come into your pipeline. After all, not every prospective client is equal.

Without a proper system for qualifying leads, you can waste a lot of time. It can be tempting to chase every lead that comes across your desk, especially when you have payroll to meet or a sales target to hit.

But have you defined a qualification process or lead scoring system to help?

Look no further than the Lead Scoring Calculator for agencies from Agency Squared.

Yes, that’s right. We are sharing our model for lead qualification and scoring for you to use to ramp up your sales effectiveness.

Click here and you’ll find our nine qualification criteria laid out in a handy calculator. Answer all nine questions and you’ll get a percentage score. The higher the score, the greater your chances of success.

At the end of the calculator, you can get your score emailed to you and request a detailed breakdown of where you need to improve.

It’s easy in sales to get distracted and chase every lead.

Every agency owner has been there. Don’t make the same mistake.

Use our handy lead scoring calculator and give yourself every chance of success.

How do you Find the Right Agency?

How do you Find the Right Agency?

How do you find the right agency? It’s a question all marketers ask at one time or another.

With over 20,000 agencies* in the UK alone, finding them is not at all hard. Finding a good one, now that’s another matter.

I teamed up with some smart marketers and a recruiter to run a series of online Roundtable events during May this year. We covered a range of subjects to help high growth or scale-up companies to build their marketing infrastructure, including:

  • What does marketing look like for a high growth / scale-up organisation?
  • How do you calculate an appropriate budget and measure ROI
  • When and how do you recruit an internal marketing team, and lastly
  • How do you find the right agency for you and your business

I was pleased to cover the last session in the series, on how do you find the right agency. It’s a constant source of frustration among marketers since there are so many options. I can tell you from the clientside perspective, that most agencies look and sound very similar from the outside.

Each Roundtable featured a 15-minute presentation and a similar length of time spent with Q&A afterwards. We recorded all of the sessions, so if you missed them you can catch up here.

No need to click if you are looking for my talk… it’s right here:

We thoroughly enjoyed pulling this series of Roundtable events together. We received some really great feedback on them too:

I took part in Agency Squared’s roundtables and found the content extremely valuable for our business.

Victoria Poon, Alpaca Coffee

Did you attend and enjoy the Roundtables? Let us know here. We are planning to run some more of these Roundtable workshops and we are keen to hear what topics we should cover, so drop us a line here.

*apparently anyway. I’ve heard this stat quoted many times, but never come across a source to verify if it’s true or not.

Scale-Up Marketing Roundtables

Scale-Up Marketing Roundtables

We’ve been working with some talented marketers to put on five Scale-Up Marketing Roundtables for start-ups and high growth companies.

We’ve held the first two Roundtables and received excellent feedback…

“I took part in Agency Squared’s roundtables and found the content extremely valuable for our business.”

“Thanks for a great session. The content was really on point, and I enjoyed the engagement!”

Don’t worry if you missed out. You can see the first Roundtable by watching the video here:

There are three more sessions to go; you can find out more and register here.

Each Roundtable will explore the core concepts of marketing you need to know about to grow a start-up. The ideas is you will leave with a better understanding of what it takes to build a marketing operation that supports your growth objectives.

In the series, we’ll be covering:

  • What is Marketing for Scale-Ups?
  • What Type of Scale-up Marketing do you Need?
  • What does Marketing Cost and How do you Measure ROI?
  • You’ve got a Marketing Problem, Should you Hire?
  • Finding and Hiring the Best Fit Agency

Our partners for the Scale-Up Marketing Roundtables are:

Ed Davidson Marketing

Growth Division

isl Talent

PODCAST: The Science of Client Relationships with Paul Phillips

PODCAST: The Science of Client Relationships with Paul Phillips

There isn’t much more important in agency life than the relationships you build with your clients.

As I’ve been in client service for most, if not all, of my agency career, I would say that. I’m sure those of you in creative services, planning, or other areas will disagree.

But, it doesn’t matter how great your ideas or your creative output are if you can’t look after your clients.

And yet, building client relationships is something I have never received any formal training in. It’s just something you learn on the job.

What if I tell you there’s an equation for creating great client relationships. Better still, what if I invited an agency pro and expert on client relationships to explain it? Look no further.

In the latest episode of Through the Line, agency veteran (I hope you don’t mind me calling you this), Paul Phillips joined me to explore the ‘Trust Equation’, developed by David Maister in his famous text, The Trusted Advisor.

Never heard of it? Here’s a simple graphic that shows the different elements of the trust equation from Trusted Advisor Associates:

agency client relationships
Image courtesy of Trusted Advisor Associates

Listen to this episode and learn from Paul as he breaks down the different elements of the trust equation, including what you can do to improve your client relationships, like working on your antenna, giving your clients a dam good listening to, and building intimacy (not like that).

Enjoy the show:

You can reach Paul here:



Other Through the Line episodes and resources you might enjoy:

Being a Leader on Social with Phil Szomszor

Growing Agencies with Katy Howell

Winning Agency Pitches with Dan Ince

Research into Client and Agency Relationships

Relationships Make the World Go Around

Relationships Make the World Go Around

The marketing industry is a bit odd.

It’s a people-centric business that relies on relationships and good communication. Yet it seems many of those who earn their living in marketing are pretty bad at both relationships and communication.

This is no more evident than in client and agency relationships i.e., how in-house marketers and their colleagues in agencies work together. 

Agencies need clients, and clients need agencies. 

It’s a symbiotic relationship. It can be the most remarkable love story full of awards and praise, or conversely, it can be a painful existence for both parties until someone has the guts to call quits.   

Joe Glover of The Marketing Meetup and I decided to explore the dynamics of client and agency relationships with a research study. We wanted to find out what makes a successful partnership in marketing.

So we asked the Agency Squared and Marketing Meetup communities to tell us how they get on with their colleagues over the fence.

What makes for a successful engagement between brands and agencies? What are their client and agency relationships like? What do they like and dislike?

In total, we received 229 responses, roughly fifty fifty from clients and agencies. 

And it seems we’re not all that happy with each other. 

In short, there’s a real lack of trust. 

Brands don’t trust their agencies to deliver. Agencies don’t trust their clients to give them what they need to deliver. 

Sounds pretty broken, right? It isn’t very reassuring. 

From someone that has worked on both the client and agency sides, I can see both perspectives. There’s clearly a need for change. 

In my time in marketing, clients have beaten me up when they want to change the world overnight for zero budget. Or they’ve treated my team like sh*t. Often client-side marketers haven’t a clue how to deliver a good brief. 

Equally, I’ve hired agencies that promise the earth and deliver a damp weekend in Skegness. They’ve sold ideas and then resourced the account with recent grads. Or they have promised ROI in weeks when in reality, it’s taken many months, or not been delivered at all. The usual gripes.  

It’s time for a change. 

It’s time we looked at how we work together to drive up marketing effectiveness. 

But what should that change look like? 

Based on our research, Joe and I have devised a 5-stage plan to help you improve your working relationships with your colleagues on the other side of the fence. 

And we’re giving it away for free. 

You can click this link here, and it’s all yours. You don’t even have to fill in a form. 

We’d rather everyone reads the report, so we don’t need your email, phone number, job title, inside leg measurement or anything else for that matter. 

You can read (and hopefully enjoy) it for free, without a load of marketing emails clogging up your inbox for the next six months. 

We hope you find our report into client and agency relationships valuable and, if you do, please share it far and wide. 

If you want to find out more, you can contact me here or Joe here

We would love to hear from you to discuss any ideas and issues raised in the report or if you want to give us some feedback. 

Also, let us know if you can use any of the ideas in our report. We are trying to drive up the standards of marketing effectiveness, one relationship at a time.


Andy and Joe

Karate Lessons that Apply to Agency Life

Karate Lessons that Apply to Agency Life

I don’t often talk about Karate, at least not in my agency life or professional life.

But, I thought I’d share something I picked up at training recently. And no, it’s not a black eye…

It’s hard to believe, isn’t it? A middle-aged, out of shape, marketing wonk learning a martial art like Karate. After all, Karate is a fighting system. Not something you often need in a marketing or agency environment.

But, when my son started training and asked me to join too, I couldn’t say no. I love spending time with my boys, so I signed up.

Anyway, three years down the track and sporting a purple and white belt, one of the many things I have picked up from the instructor (aka Sensei) is about intent.

And it relates heavily to being in business and running an agency.

It’s easy when you throw a punch (tsuki) or a kick (geri) to go through the motions. Muscle memory enables you to shoot out your fist or foot really quite easily.

But, if you actually look at the movement, often you don’t have the intent to take out your opponent? Remember. Karate is a fighting system.

You are just keeping up, doing the movements. There’s no power or targeting. No real intent.

I find it’s the same in business.

If you’re running an agency, I bet you plan on growing your revenue this year. But how often do you say this and nothing happens?

Do you really have the right level of intent? Perhaps you know it as motivation.

In Karate, if the intent isn’t there, there’s a good chance your opponent is going to hit you back and hard. It’s probably going to hurt. In agency life, if you aren’t motivated it’s a fair bet you’re standing still.

If you have been trying to grow an agency but got stuck at £1m or $500k, or whatever, for a few years, ask yourself if you are properly motivated.

Do you have enough intent? Do you have the right intent? Are you throwing all you’ve got into growing your agency, or just going through the motions because it sounds good to run your own shop?

You have to really mean it to make it happen in Karate, just as you do in the agency business. Or in any business for that matter.

This year I am going to work much harder at making everything count in my agency life and business in general. Fewer things, more focus, more intent.

I really don’t want to get hit back in Karate or in business.

If you want to find out what our focus areas are you can read about them here:

how we help marketers

what we do for agencies

our work for investors in marketing service providers

Agency Required

Agency Required

We’re once again looking for an agency to deliver a project for a client.

This project is for a local authority that needs a content agency to help tell the story of some redevelopment works to a country park in the East of England.

What type of agency are they looking to hire?

An agency that knows how to tell a story

One that is proficient with a camera, both still and moving imagery

And that can fly a drone (legally) to show the context of the redevelopment

That can also design for large format printing

Of course, they should also know how to manage a project, communicate clearly, manage a network of stakeholders and work alongside an already established team.

Get in touch if this sounds like your or your agency.

Because the client is a local authority, a formal tender process is involved. But, don’t worry, unlike some tenders, I can assure you this is not an exercise in compliance.

No agency has already been lined up for the project. It’s a fair day at the races for all who enter. 

Agency Squared Evolution

Agency Squared Evolution

It’s over two years since I launched Agency Squared.

I say launched; really, I stumbled into the idea courtesy of Hayley Williams. We met at a networking event called Drive where I spoke about my adventures in running a marcoms agency, and we hit it off.

I have been having great fun running Agency Squared ever since and getting to know Hayley well.

I haven’t followed a defined business plan or set any objectives to base a strategy. In truth, at times, it has felt like fumbling around in the dark (stop it)

But, I have learnt a lot and personally developed in areas I would have said were weaknesses.   

I managed to take some time out to reflect during the summer.

I took most of August off as much for my sanity as it was to consider where I had got to and, crucially, where I wanted to go next.

In a nutshell, I started out trying to build a community for independent agency owners. This community evolved into providing training courses, then group mastermind sessions and then a ridiculously infrequent podcast and newsletter.

A client-side marketer then asked me to draw up a shortlist of agencies to help her with a new product launch. That evolved into an agency search and appointment service. It has been great to be on the client-side of a pitch for a change.

I have more recently started having conversations with investors and agency owners looking to buy, sell or exit. I am far from a corporate finance guy, but this is an exciting world.

What started with a presentation at a networking event in Bedford has evolved into a business with three core focus areas:

  1. Helping agencies to be better agencies
  2. Advising client-side marketers on which agencies can solve their challenges
  3. Connecting agency owners with investors when they want to sell or take on capital to fuel growth

It all started to sound very grown-up, so it was time the business plan and the look and feel evolved too.

As you might expect, I looked to the Agency Squared community for help and in came Baz Richardson from Bravo Creative. It was as much a case of Baz telling me I needed to update the branding as it was me looking for help.

It was interesting to see Baz at work.

He took me through a positioning exercise followed by a brand refresh.

This process involved a good look at:

  • where I wanted to take the business
  • what the competition was up to
  • serious self-reflection and
  • design work of course

And I have to say I am thrilled with how the positioning and identity work has moved Agency Squared on.

It reflects the more confident, considered and complex business it has become, and I’m proud of what we achieved together.

Here’s the kicker, poor Baz has had to watch me take his work and translate it across Agency Squared’s various online spaces. I hope I have done it justice… 😄

What does all this mean for you?

2022 will be a year of more targeted growth. I now have a plan for what I want to achieve with Agency Squared, and you know what they say about the importance of plans.

If you’re an agency, look out for more ways we can support your business growth: more community, training, masterminds, our new quality management framework, original research and new business opportunities.

If you’re a client-side marketer, we can help you find the right agency to solve your challenge. Our new quality framework will help you identify the good from the bad, and our streamlined pitch process can get past procurement in record time. 

If you’re an investor, as our network grows, so will the opportunities for you to find business opportunities to buy or sell.

If you are interested in finding out more, get in touch. I’m always happy to talk to anyone in the marketing industry.

Here’s to the next two years.   

Agency Masterminds for Problem Solving

Agency Masterminds for Problem Solving

What a treat it was to run the Agency Squared Mastermind in person again on Friday.

Thanks to the pandemic, we’ve been running the sessions via Zoom, but it was great to meet in person. It’s just so much more human and engaging, and we had a lovely lunch too.

What were some of the issues raised?

We run our Agency Masterminds under Chatham House rules, so I can only give you the potted highlights, which are not attributed to any attendee.

Some of the key issues we addressed will be relevant to anyone growing an agency, including:

Q. How do you align team resources with new business opportunities so you can grow sustainably?

Q. How can you attract talent to build your team but without breaking the bank?

Q. How should you ensure GDPR compliance when working with freelancers/associates?

Q Is there value in B Corporations for agencies and what can we learn about running a good business without becoming certified?

Those group members who came armed with a challenge benefited from a good deal of discussion and ‘groupthink’ around how to move their agency business forward.

Our next Agency Mastermind will be in late February / Early March 2022 (quarterly).

More details here if you would like to find out more about the format. This particular group is an excellent fit for anyone running an agency with up to 10 employees.

You can also find out more about Agency Squared here and how we support agencies and in-house marketers alike.