Even in an agency that holds onto colleagues as effectively as it does clients, a decade is a long time. 2020 marks my 10th anniversary with Space & Time and I can attest that during my time here the business and the industry surrounding it have both changed beyond all recognition.
After account managing the agency from a press sales house for over five years, I was persuaded to come to the other side by Managing Partner Ed Hill, and I have never looked back. Moving from a background in regional print into an integrated media agency rapidly embracing the opportunities that digital media had to offer, my own career mirrors the journey our industry has taken. Despite so much change however, in both my own role and the sector more generally, the role of client service has not changed: whatever the media mix on a schedule, the need for transparent, plain-talking and attentive client service remains constant.
Evolution of the media mix
As you would expect from a media agency that moves with the times, our changing investment profile is testament to the shift in media consumption behaviours over the period.
Most obviously, there has been a complete switch in spend from traditional offline channels to digital: traditional media accounted for 69% of spend in 2010 vs. 25% in 2019, while digital spend was 31% of the average budget in 2010 and grew to 74% in 2019.
While such studies are vulnerable to changes in our client list over time, it’s probably a safe bet that this is a transition seen across most media agencies. As well as the pronounced differences, the relative stability in some channels is also remarkable. We haven’t seen huge shifts in spend across broadcast and DM/leaflets, for example, with the growth in digital spend largely achieved at the expense of print media.
Whilst advertising is constantly evolving, it’s tempting to speculate that the sea change in global media consumption over the last decade has been exceptional. I wonder if we will ever see such a huge shift in how we consume or buy media again. With the benefit of distance, it will become ever clearer that we lived through a change as significant as those brought about by William Caxton and John Logie Baird. Undoubtedly innovations such as voice and AI will adapt the way we buy our digital, but I don’t envisage it will seem as transformative, particularly for clients, as moving from weekly pages in the Manchester Evening News to Facebook adverts.
By far the most important part of managing this transition wasn’t our investment in tech or a commitment to constantly drive down costs per outcome, rather it was the educating of our clients; helping them to understand the benefits that new media options could deliver, and bringing them on the journey with us. Space & Time has an industry-beating client retention rate (76% of 2019 spend was from clients who have been with the agency for 5 years or more) because we managed that process well. Ultimately, you can only do the work that a client wants you to, but by understanding the end goal rather than focusing on the short-term objective (help me sell X% more widgets vs go and book this advert), we’re able to deliver campaigns that do more than just uphold that dangerous maxim, the way we’ve always done it is… However, the most innovative media schedule will only be successful if a client believes in it. Truly understanding a client’s business helps us to gain the trust required to make such big changes at a pace they are comfortable with.
Evolution of my role
In addition to a rapidly evolving channel selection, I’ve witnessed a huge amount of change driven by internal growth. Space & Time Manchester has become one of the biggest regional offices within an agency that has itself more than doubled in size over the period. When I came aboard, we were a small but well-formed team of six generalists. Today the Manchester office is home to a team of thirty-five, encompassing specialists in Search, Social, Programmatic and Insights. Most of them vibrant, energetic and full of passion and ideas in a way that ages me daily. We’ve even been persuaded to welcome an accountant into the fold. The management challenges have changed in scale and nature, but they remain the most rewarding parts of my role (when we get it right!).
We have reached a size where the shared processes and cultural nuances that make up our business are no longer enough to hold it together organically, and a lot of my work over the last few years has been around codifying this change; creating processes and structures that can help keep us on track. The biggest example of this work for me has been in training. Ensuring our teams are abreast of the latest media innovations or possessed of the best skillsets to deliver our clients’ results is key to ensuring the agency stays relevant. For the last 12 months I have been responsible for the restructuring of our Space Academy, offering colleagues a new blended approach of in-house pioneer sessions, external courses and a subscription to one of the leading online platforms, LinkedIn Learning. This has enabled us to keep the teams informed and trained regardless of their role or location. Learning is no longer confined to the classroom, with podcasts on the commute a common way to consume our training content. Affirmation that we are getting the approach right came with our recent Drum win in the Learning and Development category. An effective training scheme will ultimately help with both client and staff retention and should be a priority for any agency regardless of size.
The next 10
Predictably, any blog that indulges in navel-inspection will conclude with a healthy dose of horizon-gazing. With so much change over the last decade, it’s difficult to speculate where the next ten years may take us, but I’ll give it a go. To a limited extent, the future of the media mix for our clients is relatively predictable: the next few years will see investment into voice; the growth of Amazon as a platform; a growing ubiquity of the programmatic DSP as a way of trading a growing range of media. Hopefully I can foresee the future of the business too; a recent shift in management structure has secured our future whilst hanging on to what made the agency what it is. We will continue to delight our existing clients and to secure new ones. We will continue to make client service our most important offering.
As our numbers continue to grow, alongside career progression and the day-to-day fulfillment of tasks or arguments over the Sonos, life is happening all around the agency. A business is more than an accretion of case studies or satisfaction questionnaires. In my time with the agency, colleagues have left us and come back; colleagues have married (each other, occasionally). Colleagues have passed away. We’ve had a lot of babies (a lot of babies). A decade is a significant portion of a life; a substantial investment into one company. It’s a time that I’m proud to have given to this business.