10 Lessons Learned

Ali Findlay • 19th Jun 2019

Spend ten years doing anything and you’re bound to cultivate a story or two. You’ll no doubt rack up a good amount of wisdom from those experiences too. Maybe we’re biased but it’s possible that some days in agency life count for slightly more than the average 9-to-5 (well, if our timesheets are anything to go by…) 

So, now that we’re well into our tenth year, we’ve been thinking a bit about all those valuable lessons we’ve picked up over time and how they made us the agency we are. It seemed only right to share. Here goes…

1. Listen to your client

That old chestnut. Seems like an obvious one but listening to those that you work for is a must. Unfortunately the grapevine is full of cautionary tales where the agency has pushed on with what they assume to be best whilst ignoring those golden nuggets of insight that make the difference between self-indulgent vanity projects and truly effective creative marketing.

2. Pick your battles

It’s a rule of thumb at The Lane that if the client won’t meet you, share their budget, or there’s more than 3 agencies pitching – it’s probably not worth it. These three things raise serious alarm bells for us. No architect would design a building without knowing the budget or having their fee signed off first. No lawyer would start work on a case until they’re appointed. The same goes for agencies. Your time is valuable and it’s crucial to work with people that value it. 

3. Hire slow

One thing that we’ve been proven right on time and time again, is that agencies are only as good as their people. That’s why it makes sense to take your time when bringing in new people. The wrong ones can upset the applecart whilst the right additions have an impact far greater than their number. For us that means balancing our search for the best talent with ensuring that they’re good people, and by ‘good’ we mean kind, generous, team players with tenacity. Get that right and everything else just seems to fall into place.

4. Respect

It might seem counterintuitive at the time but if a relationship isn’t healthy, get out of it. Toxic situations aren’t good for you or the client. If you don’t both feel heard then neither party stands to gain very much at all. We always say that the best relationships are characterised by a blend of trust, openness and mutual respect. When all of that’s present, they usually turn out to be both inspiring and fun too.

5. Don’t avoid the difficult conversations

Probably the most commonly skirted conversation would be that around cost. It might be awkward in some instances but this is business and managing expectations is vital. After all, a great idea shouldn’t be undermined just because you didn’t discuss the budget in time! In fact, the constraints of a budget (and a healthy dose of vision) can actually bring out a special type of creativity that’s often arguably more impactful than big budget campaigns.

6. Measuring up is nothing to be scared of

Over the last decade we’ve noticed that sometimes people shy away from measuring their results. Whether it’s down to fear of failure, a general allergy to statistics… whatever the reason, we feel like it’s a little short sighted not to dissect even your worst performing projects. There’s always room for improvement and it’s always useful to find out what’s working and what isn’t. The best way to get better, in other words. 

7. Embrace your weaknesses

Nobody’s perfect, so don’t be shy to confront the things you’re not so hot at. If you’re being asked to do something that just isn’t your forte, it’s as simple as saying ‘We don’t do that, but we know someone amazing who does’. By working with partners in this way, you can offer long term strategic alliances that solidify the client/agency relationship.

8. Listen to yourself

Bringing in consultants who share specialist knowledge and experience is often hugely beneficial. It has been for us on many occasions. However we seriously recommend taking your own counsel and listening to your gut when it comes to your people and your relationships. Your own intuition is more important and listening to the wrong advice can send you down expensive and distracting rabbit holes.

9. Briefs, briefs, briefs

In our agency, briefs are mandatory. From the client to the agency and from client services to creative… the reason they’re important is obvious to anyone who works in marketing, but it always bears repeating. Briefs give us something to measure the work by, they’re what we bring out when the creative is on the table and ask ‘So, does this work?’ Without one, your scope for nailing exactly what’s wanted narrows greatly. Preferably it should be possible to articulate the post in a tweet sized statement.

10. Be brave

Always strive to create something brave. In our heads, the agency should never stop trying to respectfully move the client organisation on in whatever aspect of their marketing they deal with. It’s the bold work that you’re remembered for; “They’re the agency who helped us move our traditional media bound strategy into one more balanced with digital… and saved us 25% on our media spend in the process.” Or, “They’re the agency that helped us find and share our real brand personality, and our customers loved it.”

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