Why setting up an agency in London shouldn’t be like collecting the finest of animal specimens for a zoo


Most London agencies, especially boutique creative ones, tend to falter their first go. It took one agency (who will remain nameless) nearly a decade to find their feet in this city.

Why? Because often the starting line-up of people are hand picked from the jungle, as individuals, rather than as a pack or a team. It’s almost as if these agencies were selecting the finest of animal specimens for a zoo – assembling the best lion, the best tiger and the best bear, ‘Oh my!’ Then these poor exotic creatures are burdened with an illogical expectation that they perform at peak from day one… together.

Unlike an actual zoo, where animals are rightly segregated in to separate habitats, agency folks have to immediately deliver as a highly functioning team, with very little grace period to get to know each other. More often than none, the people in the team will have never worked together or with the brand they are representing. And to make matters worse, in several instances a senior American figure is thrown into the mix without any local knowledge, which is fine if you’re a creative but not if you’re a planner or an account person.

There’s an assumption that the American agency model is the same one in operation in London. Creatives generally run agencies in America, which is not the case in London. Given the high expectations of transitioning American figures, they don’t have they time for the inevitable 6-month London learning curve, when it dawns on them that Campaign is more powerful than Ad Week and that things work very differently despite the common language.

Lack of understanding of their competitors also means that often the exotic talent collected aren’t capable of competing against their counterparts. Agency start-ups usually throw in one or two relatively junior team members who are expected to compete with some of the best CEOs, ECDs and CSOs London has to offer. Every agency needs a Gorilla, but instead a cheaper monkey is brought in. It may be the best monkey money can buy, but generally they are still no match for the best Gorillas.

Well-oiled, experienced teams that like and rate each other often happily work together at high levels for years. To put it simply: Highly functioning teams, who respect one another, have chemistry win pitches and build successful agencies not highly-awarded agency brands, solo talent or even the best creative work.

To be successful, build a team around an individual or existing team. Let them choose the other members of their team; don’t impose new folks on them. Hire a CEO, ideally with local knowledge or at least someone capable of competing with the CEOs in your competitive set. Ideally, have someone on the team that has worked for the brand that you’re launching.

If you’re going to set up an agency in London, make sure the animals can work together and won’t eat each other at first sight of a problem.

Do you have any questions or comments on curating a highly functioning, London-based cohesive team? Let us know in the comments. We’d love to hear from you!

Tim SparkeComment