How to... set up your own experiential agency

Ever considered setting up your own brand experience agency? Three agency founders reveal their top tips on going it alone.

How to... set up your own experiential agency
How to... set up your own experiential agency

Will Parkinson, partner and experiential director at Inkling

Be nice to your suppliers (always). You’ll really need them when you set up.

Maintain good relationships with previous agencies – referrals will really help during the first few months.

Be open to white labeling.

Ask for help. Suppliers, old clients, friends etc – will all want to see you succeed.

Aim high and don’t be afraid to big up all of the work you have done for other agencies before you set up, referencing the agency.

Enjoy it. If you’re not, it’s probably not the right thing to be doing.

Ben Gallop, managing director of Brand & Deliver

Before taking the plunge, make sure you have a client, or have deep pockets.

Experiential is one of the most high-risk, high-cost marketing exercises in the arsenal. (Let's not forget it's also the most impactful when done well). But, the risk/cost ratio means clients are very, very wary about new agencies. There's a real sense of 'better the devil you know' and accounts don't change hands very often. 

If you're starting out, make sure you have a committed client on day one so you have guaranteed income and future credentials to get rolling with. Otherwise, you'd better have a rich and relaxed investor.

There's no room for more 'me too' agencies. There's gazillions of agencies out here already. Why are you any different? You'll have no history, no credentials and nothing to calm procurement departments.

Make sure what you do have is something new, innovative and exclusive to you. A quality concept can often trump the bean-counters best attempts at quashing you.

Get the right suppliers. With clients increasingly demanding 60-day payment terms or more, you need great, high quality suppliers who will match or better the terms you'll be suffering under. Get them onside as partners, and honour that trust when you make it big.

Get a partner, or five. Staff is one thing, but it's truly lonely at the top.  In your business plan, make sure you create an organisation chart of the future – when you've been successful. Then see if you can find partners now to fill some of those roles. You'll be stacked delivering proposals, projects and managing people – then you have a business to run. Get help you can trust and share the shares.

Believe in yourself. Believe that you're the expert and all you're trying to do is help the client succeed. If they're too blind, arrogant or lazy to see that, move on. You don't have time to deal with time-wasters. But do it nicely – clients move about.

Hugh Robertson, founder of RPM

The marketplace today is a very different one to that of 22 years’ ago when RPM was founded. You need to cover the business critical stuff; proposition, people and point of difference. It's a crowded marketplace, so how will you achieve stand-out and ensure you have relevance in today's highly competitive market?

Is your proposition turning the tried and tested on its head? Are you offering a new perspective or take on the sector or will you be competing on price or scope of services?

Fundamentally, and a total truism, people buy people so you have to get the best people who will work well together and in turn create a productive and collaborative culture, leading to a successful agency. 

And to the founder, what's your track record? Will clients and people follow you? How are you funding it? What is your vision for the stakeholders to buy into and to commit their working day and marketing budgets to? Most important of all, are you really up for the roller coaster ride that setting up and running your own agency entails?

Be honest, avoid the grey, be black and white about what you are great at and what you are not so great at, find the best people who will compliment your skill set and empower them.

Finally, in those words made famous by Kevin Costner in Field of Dreams, 'build it and they will come' is certainly not true as a start-up in agency land. Ensure you have a brilliant network and PR practitioner to get your message out there and create the vision and agency you aspire to.

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