Embracing Marketing Mistakes

How to perfect your pitch with Lord Sugar's PR Guru - Andrew Bloch

March 12, 2024 Prohibition PR Season 1 Episode 24
How to perfect your pitch with Lord Sugar's PR Guru - Andrew Bloch
Embracing Marketing Mistakes
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Embracing Marketing Mistakes
How to perfect your pitch with Lord Sugar's PR Guru - Andrew Bloch
Mar 12, 2024 Season 1 Episode 24
Prohibition PR

Ever wondered what it takes to work through a truly successful partnership between a marketing agency and its clients? Join us as marketing guru Andrew Block, an expert behind agency mergers and with a rich history at FrankPR, offers his goldmine of expertise. Discover the secrets to understanding the real business challenges behind a brief and how the simple act of asking 'why' can set you apart in a crowded field.

 Andrew also delves into his vital role as a matchmaker for brands and creative agencies, drawing from his unique experiences with Lord Sugar and The Apprentice winners to provide a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of public relations.

Get ready for an interesting chat through some of the most out there agency pitches you'll ever hear about. From boardroom transformations to the critical importance of leaving a memorable impression, we unpack the essence of creativity in marketing. Hear about pitches that soared and those that plummeted, and learn why resilience and the ability to embrace the unexpected are crucial in this fast-paced industry. 

And for those in the thick of navigating the complex market dynamics, Andrew sheds light on the current hurdles agencies face, from profitability challenges to the art of crafting efficient briefs. We also talk through the trending surge in mergers and acquisitions, which might just point to an industry on the rise. Plus, don't miss the powerful narrative of a marketing campaign's brush with disaster and the lessons in humility and resilience that turned it all around. This episode isn't just about the highs and lows of PR—it's a masterclass in adapting, surviving, and thriving in the ever-evolving realm of agency relationships.

Twitter: @andrewbloch
LinkedIn: Andrew Bloch
Website: www.andrewbloch.co.uk

Would you like to know if your social media and content strategy is perfect for this year? Book a free 15-minute brand discovery call here with Chris, and we will help you grow your brand today. And if you like the show, please leave us a review, or even just a thumbs up. It is very much appreciated - we want your feedback.

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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Ever wondered what it takes to work through a truly successful partnership between a marketing agency and its clients? Join us as marketing guru Andrew Block, an expert behind agency mergers and with a rich history at FrankPR, offers his goldmine of expertise. Discover the secrets to understanding the real business challenges behind a brief and how the simple act of asking 'why' can set you apart in a crowded field.

 Andrew also delves into his vital role as a matchmaker for brands and creative agencies, drawing from his unique experiences with Lord Sugar and The Apprentice winners to provide a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world of public relations.

Get ready for an interesting chat through some of the most out there agency pitches you'll ever hear about. From boardroom transformations to the critical importance of leaving a memorable impression, we unpack the essence of creativity in marketing. Hear about pitches that soared and those that plummeted, and learn why resilience and the ability to embrace the unexpected are crucial in this fast-paced industry. 

And for those in the thick of navigating the complex market dynamics, Andrew sheds light on the current hurdles agencies face, from profitability challenges to the art of crafting efficient briefs. We also talk through the trending surge in mergers and acquisitions, which might just point to an industry on the rise. Plus, don't miss the powerful narrative of a marketing campaign's brush with disaster and the lessons in humility and resilience that turned it all around. This episode isn't just about the highs and lows of PR—it's a masterclass in adapting, surviving, and thriving in the ever-evolving realm of agency relationships.

Twitter: @andrewbloch
LinkedIn: Andrew Bloch
Website: www.andrewbloch.co.uk

Would you like to know if your social media and content strategy is perfect for this year? Book a free 15-minute brand discovery call here with Chris, and we will help you grow your brand today. And if you like the show, please leave us a review, or even just a thumbs up. It is very much appreciated - we want your feedback.

Follow Chris Norton:
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TikTok
LinkedIn

Follow Will Ockenden:
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LinkedIn

Follow The Show:
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Speaker 1:

Welcome to socially unacceptable, from f**k up to fame, the marketing podcast that celebrates the professional mishaps, mistakes and misjudgments, while delivering valuable marketing and life lessons in the time it takes you to eat your lunch.

Speaker 2:

So our very first office. We actually have an ambulance as our boardroom. It was a real ambulance that was brought from Just asked the client what's the business problem?

Speaker 3:

And he said I used to give this training. And he said nine out of ten agencies go. Oh, you can't ask him what the business problem is Like, because this is the brief, we meet the brief, we do the work, let's agree. And that, oh no, ask the question why are we doing this? What's the problem? And he said if you do that, you'll stand out. You'll stand out.

Speaker 3:

And he's actually responding on a superficial basis, yeah because his point was the brief usually isn't the brief you wanted to talk about when you opened an office for Frank in New York. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, Andrew? I didn't want to talk about it.

Speaker 1:

You asked me what my f**k up.

Speaker 3:

I'm your host, chris Norton, and I've worked in PR and marketing for more than 25 years. 13 years ago, will and I founded Prohibition PR as we wanted to do PR differently, using customer insight at our very core. Today, I'm proud to say we have an amazing team and Prohibition is one of the North's top 10 PR and social media agencies. We turn over more than seven figures every single year. Do you work with or for a marketing agency of some kind? Do you think you're getting the most you can from them? Do you feel like they fully understand your business and you understand theirs properly?

Speaker 3:

In today's show, we meet Andrew Bloch, a former international agency owner and all-round pitch genius. Andrew founded FrankPR back in 2000 and he built it up into an international agency before selling it a number of years later. Andrew now works in mergers and acquisitions in the agency space and even helps big brands find the right agency for their creative briefs. Essentially, he's a marketing matchmaker. I think you're going to enjoy this episode because this week we're going to break down how to get the most value from your relationship with your agencies and how to get a win-win from that relationship. Andrew also has some hilarious pitch anecdotes which I think you're going to like. So, as always, sit back, relax and let's hear how you can get the most from your agency. Hi everybody, welcome back to Social Inacceptable. Today we are joined on the show by William Mockendon, obviously, as always, and also Andrew Bloch, from Andrew Bloch Associates and from Frank Fain. Good morning, andrew. How's it going Good?

Speaker 2:

morning. Yes, going really well, thank you. How about you?

Speaker 3:

Yeah good, it's good to have you on. So obviously we know you from when you set up Frank back in the day, frankpr, which is how many years ago, year 2000,. Wasn't it?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, so yeah, this is 24th year. 24th year, 24th year.

Speaker 3:

And so you've set up Andrew Bloch Associates. Why don't you tell us a bit about what you're doing now with yourself, then?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, sure. So I stepped back from Frank after 20 years, decided to go my own direction, didn't really know what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn't want to do, which was run another agency. I wanted to do my own thing, and now I have. I think the fashionable term is a portfolio career. So I've split my time in various different directions. I spend a lot of my time doing mergers and acquisitions work, working for a company called PCB where I'm a partner in their marketing services team, and that's about buying and selling agencies, pr, marketing, digital data For the big management consultancies, the big marketing services groups, as well as sort of mid-size and smaller independence that are making acquisitions, also helping sell companies that feel like it's the right time for an exit.

Speaker 2:

I think my official title is I can't even remember, but I look after PR, digital, social influencer and content for the AAR. So the AAR, for anyone that doesn't know, is, I guess, the easiest way to explain it. It's a management consultancy that specializes in marketing services, so it helps brand owners find the right partners, helps them sort out their organizations and the balance of sort of internal and external resource. So a lot of my time is running processes to help them find the right agencies. I continue to look after the PR for Lord Sugar and all of the apprentice winners, which is something that I've done for 22, 23 years, not far yet. And then I sit on the board of several different companies, mainly in the marketing services arena, helping them with growth, how to achieve success, how to build the company, and when I'm not doing that, I take a day off.

Speaker 3:

Andrew, I mean, wow, how busy are you Dealing with Lord Sugar on the end of the phone, holy s***. I've had some difficult questions, but when I used to watch the apprentice it used to give me anxiety. I've just like, oh my God, I'm so glad my clad sat as bad as that. What is it like dealing with Lord Sugar? Does he put you through the boardroom properly, or is he alright because he trusts you after that many years?

Speaker 2:

He's alright. Yeah, I mean I think what you see on the show I mean that is him. It's a bit of a character chore, but it's not anything that isn't part of his personality. I guess what you don't see is the softer side of him, his sense of humour, his kind of loyalty to his staff, that side of things. But yeah, he's pretty direct and we communicate oh God, I mean dozens of times a day over, whatever form of media it might be email, whatsapp, phone calls and he's very straight, he's very to the point. But we've got used to each other's working styles and I think we're quite complimentary. I mean, he's ruthlessly efficient. I like to think that I am too so you know, I'm always quick to be able to respond to him and sort stuff out and, yeah, we get on very well.

Speaker 3:

That's good. I mean I do get the feeling is quite loyal. So so now you're dealing with you've, you've, basically you've moved out of agency. You're now helping facilitate a lot of the way you describe that purchase, the mergers and acquisitions for agencies, which obviously, as an agency owner, I'm fascinated in the markets you're moving in there is interesting. But from your experience, what are the biggest roadblocks brands faced in getting most out of their agency relationships? What's holding people back like from clients? What don't they do right to get the most from their agencies?

Speaker 2:

I mean it's interesting when you know I spent years and years agency side and they're now sort of flipping to the other side of the table. Really, why, generally see? It's normally six of one, half a dozen of the other and it's very basic stuff. But it's the stuff that you can easily overlook and I think it's really about, you know, the best relationships and it's a real cliche, but they're partnerships. So the agent, the client, doesn't see the agency as a supplier, they see them as a trusted partner and for an agency, you know, I think they need to be involved. They need to understand the business in a broader remit than just necessarily the PR or the social media or the performance marketing or whichever area they're looking after. They need to understand what the client's business objectives are, and I see far too many agencies are just wrapped up in the day to day without actually sort of stepping back and looking at it.

Speaker 2:

I think the other thing that I noticed on the client side is they're busy, it's obvious, but it's not their sole job, their sole responsibility, just to be there for an agency and an agency needs to understand that and be respectful of that. But the best clients invest time in their agencies and they make sure that they understand their business, the culture and, of course, sort of setting up from the beginning is normally the biggest indication of whether a relationship is going to be successful or not. And for me that's about having really clear scopes of work, agreeing the remit of an agency, being respectful to them if they sort of go above and beyond that scope continually and it's not working commercially for them. So you know there's there's lots of ways to make these relationships work, but often agencies and clients can become complacent about their relationship. Things can kind of die down a little bit once the honeymoon periods over and you have to consistently put effort in, consistently step back and evaluate what's working and what's not.

Speaker 2:

And I think it's about being honest with one another and setting yourself up with a relationship where you can talk to each other when not everything's going to go right the whole time. Things don't work, you do make mistakes, things go wrong, and having a relationship with a client whereby you understand one another and you don't fudge things over and try and sort of bluff it. If it's not going well, that's going to leave. You know it's no different to a personal relationship. Communication is the key to these things. But the best clients are the ones that respect their agencies, treat them like partners, invest in the relationship, and then that's reciprocated from the other side.

Speaker 1:

Presumably, that almost starts from the very initial onboarding process, does it? You know, when you have that initial meeting, you get to meet as the agency, the wider team, with the client. I mean, from your perspective, how can clients and agencies have an effective onboarding, because I've seen so many times that process go completely wrong and from the off, expectations are completely out of whack, aren't they?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean, you're totally right and it is an expectation thing. I think you know what I always try to explain to a client, especially when it's a big budget. You know I run pitches a million, two million plus in fees and you know that requires a big resource from the agency. And you know clients don't always realize agencies are certainly not well run agencies. They're not sitting around with that level of capacity. They're going to have to get up to speed, they're going to have to want board. They're going to probably have to hire, going to have to take people of certain accounts and shuffle things up. You know that that isn't an overnight process. So that's the first thing clients need to understand.

Speaker 2:

There needs to be this sort of running period. Where it works really well is is, as you alluded to, these kind of inductions, where the teams can come into the clients offices, meet the team if they're, you know, retail operation, go and visit their retail outlets. I often think it works really well when an agency places someone within the clients organization for a day, a week or something like that, certainly in the run up and vice versa. Allowing clients to work from your space works really well and probably one of the most effective things you can do from the outset is work with your clients and your agency together to set like a 100 day plan of. This is what we're going to aim to achieve by 100 days. So by the end of that 100 days we're going to be up and running and at full capacity the best you're ever going to see us.

Speaker 2:

But there is this sort of two, three months of running as we build the team, as we learn, as we understand each other's organizations, and that way you're managing expectations from the outset. No one's disappointed. It's all about expectation management. But yeah, you need to set yourself up from day one.

Speaker 3:

Well, this show is all about fuck ups, andrew, and obviously you've been involved in a lot of pitches and I've heard you speak about pitch situations. So what's the biggest fuck up you've made in a pitch? Because, trust me, I've made a few.

Speaker 2:

I've made a lot. I've probably chosen to sort of throw them out the window. I mean, look, essentially any pitch you don't win is a fuck up, but sometimes you can put in your best effort and you get beaten by someone better or culturally you were the right fit. I think you know where I've had disastrous pitches is really where we have probably not been prepared well enough and we've winged it a little bit, or where I mean I was. I'm always a fan of like combination of style and substance, so you have to have the substance. You can't just sort of bring on the flair and charisma without anything behind it. But I always felt you know you want to do that thing, to be memorable. When a client's seeing four or five agencies, you want them to remember you and actually from the very early days of Frank.

Speaker 2:

With that in mind, we decided we'd always have memorable boardrooms, Because you know you go into a meeting room and it's the same as another one, same as another one. So our very first office, we actually have an ambulance as our boardroom. It was a real ambulance that was brought from Caledonian Road, stripped out, spray painted boardroom table inside. That was good, but it was quite small and I remember our first big, big pitch, sort of a year into the agency and suddenly like 15 clients turned up and it was a disaster. We didn't obviously didn't have aircon or anything there. We had this little rubbish sort of fan that didn't do anything and there was like 15 people squashed in the back of an ambulance. That wasn't designed for that in the first place but certainly wasn't designed to hold that amount of people. And then when we moved offices, the next boardroom was a beach and the thinking behind that was you know, you're most relaxed when you're on a beach on holiday with the sand between your toes, and that's where you're most creative, when you're switched off. Was there?

Speaker 3:

actual sand on the floor, then Actual sand.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean I'd love to say we shipped in from the Maldives. I think it was from a builder's yard, which was something. It's like industrial sand. But Graeme and I as guys hadn't thought through the fact that women don't really want to take their shoes off. And you know, as I said, this wasn't like that sort of beautiful white sand. This was a bit sort of yellow and stick within about a month.

Speaker 2:

There hadn't any. It was, you know, all sorts of things you'd find in the sand. That was, and then we sort of moved on. The next one was a bedroom, and again it was about this feeling of relaxation massive room, beds, and that was fine. Actually, no major issues with that. There's a few stories that aren't suitable for this podcast that I could tell you about what went on in that room for another day, the last sort of one that

Speaker 2:

we built it was like a fairground with waltzers. So you got into these waltzers and they actually spun round. They were proper fairground waltzers. And yeah, we did have a client who was a bit on the large side and didn't fit into the waltzer and I think that was a pitch loss before we even opened our mouths. So that's all about the environment and being memorable and, you know, no one's going to forget. You were the agency with the waltzer, you were the agency with the bedroom, with the sand, with the ambulance, and that always really worked for us. It's about being memorable. But in terms of the actual pitches, I mean I remember even pre-Frank, there was a pitch where I was. It was actually my boss at the time and she was so nervous she physically vomited on the table, which wasn't a good look.

Speaker 1:

How do you recover from that? That's memorable though Andrew.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, that was memorable.

Speaker 2:

It was memorable for all the raw reasons. I mean they normally are for the raw reasons. We did one for a computer game client and it was a war game we were pitching for. I can't actually remember what the game was, but we thought it'd be good pitch theater to waterboard someone live in the pit and that didn't go down particularly well. We didn't do a dress rehearsal and we didn't kill an employee. That would have been really memorable. But we did probably cause them more suffering than we were intending to do with our pitch theater and I don't think any of us would forget that, and we lost that pitch.

Speaker 3:

That was going above and beyond that. That's probably lifelong PTSD.

Speaker 1:

isn't it for that particular account, exec, who got waterboarded?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I'm not actually proud of that one. But we've done some crazy stuff. We bought an actor, I think it was I can't believe it's not butter and the whole campaign was about PRing it was, I can't remember it used. They use lookalikes in their ads, so there was like an Aussie Osborne lookalike. And so we thought, for the pitch, which was all about how you're going to make this ad famous, we would put a fake PR person in the room and then they were an actor and they'd start getting increasingly weird and eccentric throughout the pitch and then at the end we'd reveal I can't believe I'm not actually a PR, but they ended up being quite good and the club really liked them and wants them to be on the account. That was a strange one. I'm not sure what that said about this. So I've done loads.

Speaker 3:

I mean I've probably pitched.

Speaker 2:

I wouldn't even want to count, but it's definitely got to be in the thousands. In terms of pitches I've done so. There's been plenty of good ones, plenty of bad ones, plenty of bad ones. And I think you know one of the things about working in this industry you do become quite resilient, so you brush off a pitch win or a pitch loss relatively quickly and just move on to the next one.

Speaker 2:

But sometimes it's a bit like football teams where they just seem to lose no matter what they do. They go on and losing streak. And we've, I remember, a couple of streaks where we were losing five, six in a row, and that's tough. And also winning streaks where we just, like we didn't deserve to win, turn up unprepared. It wasn't even that good, but we had such confidence in our own ability, we were on this roll that we just seemed to be untouchable and unfortunately that came to an end that these things always do. But if pitching is, to me it's like the lifeblood of our industry and for any agency it doesn't matter what the discipline is. It's so exciting, you learn so much. But you have to have a fairly run process. You know that a pitch is great, whether you win or lose if it's a fairly run process and it's proportionate to the size of the prize, but when it's not, it's a really shitty feeling.

Speaker 2:

And you've wasted your time, everyone's wasted their time. So you know, one of the things I've tried to do since joining the AAR is ensure the process is a fair, and part of that is having a process that is proportionate to the size of the prize. So you know, fair enough of this two million pound bit of business. You want to be quite rigorous in terms of checking out an agency's capabilities. But if it's for a 50 grand project, a 20 grand project, and it's tactical and just a bit of creative something like that, you shouldn't be putting an agency through the same process. And it's a big investment for an agency in terms of time and resource, financially. So it always has to be proportionate.

Speaker 2:

So I see myself now like, well, though I've gone to the other side, I want to use my experience of great pitch to be able to benefit clients but also be the friend of agencies, and you know that goes all the way through to, if someone doesn't win, making sure that you're not sending them a one line email saying you came a close second. You know you've got to give them feedback and you know at the very least they can learn something from the process and realise where they went wrong or where another agency was better. That's really important to me and I'd like to think every pitch I've run in the last few years has been a decent one.

Speaker 3:

In terms of running pitches. Then we got you on the show because you're from an agency background and obviously now you've moved to the finding the relevant, the right partner. That's what your job is now. Is that correct?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, yeah, that's right.

Speaker 3:

So, with that in mind, then, what are the key elements of a highly effective agency brief? How do brand marketing people in brand? How do they get the most into a brief without it being overbearing?

Speaker 2:

The simple answer to that is the ask has to be very clear, and I think it's almost the easy thing to do for a client just to throw every bit of information they can get at an agency in the hope that they're going to grasp something. A good brief is, first of all, helping an agency understand what you're looking for and getting to know them and them being able to get to know you a bit Even before you've sort of sent them a written brief or given them a verbal brief. And then the actual ask has to sort of form a scope of work. So it's clear, the ask has to be, as I was just saying previously, proportionate to the reward at the end. So you know, if it's I don't know, let's just say a creative stunt around Christmas, don't start asking them for one year's worth of strategy. Don't start asking them for these deep insights into their brand and market. You know, just think about what the ask is and what you want from the agency and then make the brief proportionate to that, and the clearer the better. Show them what success looks like. Take it for you as a client. So you know if that is business metrics. You know amount of orders, amount of hits to a website, volume of sales. Share a voice. Tell them that. Show them where you're at at the moment. Explain to them.

Speaker 2:

You know normally a pitch process is a distress purchase in the you know if they were happy they wouldn't really be changing. So tell them what then, what, what you're not happy with at the time being. And be respectful of agencies. You know a lot. Clients don't always understand the amount of preparation, the time it takes. Don't give an agency you know a brief on Christmas Eve and ask for a response on New Year's Day. Those kind of things that the more respectful and the more you invest in the agencies, your briefing, the better responses you're going to get. And that comes down to also selecting the right amount of agencies to pitch for something. And you know you do hear these horror stories of 10 agencies pitching and it's not fair, it's not right. You're wasting everyone's time. So you know, when I'm sitting with a client I will always encourage them no more than four agencies, sometimes three.

Speaker 2:

You can do a process in advance to narrow that list down and I think if the ask isn't great in the beginning, you can start with a much broader list whilst you figure out what type of agency, what size of agency, what skill set, what culture you're looking for and then narrow it down. Give them the right amount of time, have check-ins along the way. Don't just sort of send them something and go silent. And clients are being difficult when they're not giving you that sort of interaction. It's just they're busy and they don't necessarily understand the value of the more that they put in, the more that they're going to get out of the response. And again, the best process is not necessarily a pitch process.

Speaker 2:

I think a pitch process is quite artificial. You don't always see the team that's going to work on your business. It's a performance. There are people who are very good at pitching that win disproportionate amounts of work when it comes to the work, not so good. So there's lots of other ways that you can do it.

Speaker 2:

You know I'm a big fan of sort of more workshop type methodology or even live briefs where you brief an agency in the room. You see how they react. When I'm working on big social pitches, that's a great way of seeing how an agency thinks on their feet, how good they are reactively to the news agenda and also gives you an insight strategically about whether they understand. These are the areas that we should touch. These are the areas to avoid. So there's lots of different ways of doing it. I think it's a bit of a default to go to a pitch and some you know there is a time and a place for a pitch, but it's not in every instance. But the best clients are the ones that will invest in that process and time and time again I see they get the best at the other end.

Speaker 1:

So it was interesting to hear you talk about ridiculous time frames, andrew. When it comes to pitching, and I think that's something we've all had, we also get frustrated by clients refusing to disclose budgets when it comes to a pitch. What other kind of common mistakes do you see that clients could address and write better pitches as a result? I think I've probably covered most of them.

Speaker 2:

There's also a role. You know it's not just the client's responsibility. The agency needs to be responsible for making sure they ask the right questions and you know, I've always trained agencies in terms of how to do that. And actually, budget is a key one, because I think there's this sort of client mentality Well, if I tell them I've got 100 grand to spend, they're going to spend 100 grand. It's not all I mean maybe, but if you don't tell someone the budget, then how can they give you an appropriate response? It's like saying I want a car. Well, would you want? Do you want a mini? Do you want a Rolls Royce? If you don't give someone a budget, how they? So you need to be able to ask the right questions and explain to clients why that's important. And if a client is really, really reluctant to give a budget, I'd often sort of say well, you know what if we were to respond across three levels? So you know, bronze level is 50 grand, silver level is 100 grand, gold is 500 grand, and then that will encourage them to say, well, yeah, but actually the gold won't be as much as that, or I would definitely spend at least X.

Speaker 2:

There's ways of getting the budget from a client. I think the other thing that clients don't do is invest the time with the teams, and you know, for me that sort of chemistry stage is critical Going into agencies, seeing them in their own environment, meeting the teams that are going to work on the business. You know, telling an agency really what you want. An agency is always going to put their best people onto a pitch and they might bring in some other people, but if the MD is not going to work on the business, you don't want to see them. Like, what difference does it make? Meet them for a coffee, get an idea how involved they are in client business, but if they're not going to be active, so that's. You know clients need to ensure that. I think there's lots of soft factors. You know the chemistry is not always as black and white as you might think. And then you know the other area is the commercials and understanding what they're buying. So, if an agency works on a timesheet basis, understand where those hours go in advance, understand what the balance of the teams are, how much senior time you'll get in.

Speaker 2:

I think I'll always encourage clients to talk to agencies about what's your average client retention? What's your average staff retention? You know those sorts of things tell you a lot about the culture of an agency and how likely they are to have team stability, which is often a big client agency issue. So there's lots of things that you can ask and find out, but I'll always go back to the fact you get your timings right in terms of these asks. Don't ask too much up front.

Speaker 2:

One of the things I've encouraged clients to do is not ask for tailored creds from 50 agencies at the start of their process. You know that's when they work with an intermediary like AAR, we can advise them and guide them without needing to ask too much of agencies time. You know your agency website is super important. I never really realised that when I was running an agency. I mean, I knew it was significant, but the amount of research that is done on your agency without you even realising it is immense. The amount of times you're ruled out of a pitch because of what a client's seen on your website and you even know about it is much, much higher than your laughing.

Speaker 3:

That's fascinating, isn't it? The fact that people are just writing you off when they see your website and just saying that they're no good.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, they do. They just look at a website and they just get. They might get good sense or a bad sense, but it has to signpost what you were about, what you do, what your services give them a sense of. The agency and clients can be turned off and turned on by a website. It's more important than you perhaps think it is.

Speaker 3:

So this show is all about fuckups. As we've said, it's from Cold, from Fuckups to Fame, and you've given me a few things in your responses to the questionnaire. We asked you a few questions and you wanted to talk about when you opened an office for Frank in New York. Do you want to talk a little bit about that, andrew? I didn't want to talk about it.

Speaker 2:

You asked me what my fuckup was. Now I think, look, I mean, people always say you've got to kind of fail to learn and if you know, if you learn, it's not a failure and to an extent that's true. But I think anyone who's running an agency, you don't really want to fail, you want to get it right every time and I think you know I was very blessed with Frank with, oh, not an easy journey, but we had it seemed to be that everything we did worked and we always we'd had sort of our London office which was going great, and we'd opened up in Manchester, we'd opened up in Glasgow, we'd opened up in Sydney. We always have the view like it's sort of easier to open in an office where they speak the same language as you. Culturally it will be more similar Just felt like I don't know, felt like an easy thing to do.

Speaker 2:

America was the dream big market, but there've been so many failures in America, so many great, great ad agencies, PR agencies. There was that quote. I have no idea who said it, but you know the streets of Madison Avenue are littered with dead agencies and it wasn't cockiness that we thought would be different, but we had a self belief and Frank was flying and we thought, yeah, let's give it a go. We found an MD. Actually, the MD was quite interesting. He did Donald Trump's PR for the apprentice, so it was. I got very well with him. Sadly he died not whilst at Frank's, a few years ago, but he was a lovely guy.

Speaker 2:

We put a lot of effort into it. I used to go out for a week every single month and I don't know. We were achieving what I would call moderate success. The agency was running, it was profitable, just but it was having a really detrimental effect on the rest of the business and I personally found it really hard to focus on those two things at once. And the London office, which was our biggest office by a long way, was beginning to suffer. And with one client.

Speaker 2:

I think I didn't realise the scale we need in America and part of the reason we sat up there was because we had clients that were American clients or international clients, people like Disney and we were looking after hotelscom at the time and stuff like that. They all had operations in America and they liked us. We were smashing it for them in terms of the work we're doing in the UK or elsewhere. I realised that I think it was hotelscom when they started talking to us about, OK, we would consider using Franck. So I'm like who are you working with at the moment? Oh, we're working with a small boutique agency out there. Ok, what's your team structure like? Oh, we've got 35 people working on our account. What? Yeah, yeah, yeah, the team's 35 people it was. It wasn't impossible for us to scale to that level. But when you have a big account there, it's a big account. So we were winning kind of like boutiquey small clients and I was spending way too much time.

Speaker 2:

The culture there is very different. You could email anyone at any level and they would meet you for a coffee. I couldn't believe my luck. I was like I'm going to be in New York next week. You fancy meeting up for a coffee to the CEO of this, the marketing director of that? Yeah, sure, and you'd meet them and they'd be full of enthusiasm.

Speaker 2:

Every American knows how to speak, how to conduct themselves and I'd leave the meeting. I'd phone Graham back in London. Oh my God, I just met the marketing director. I'll be amazed if we don't have their business in a week. And he's like wow, this is incredible and I think I'm a relatively good judge of character. We all get it wrong sometimes, but I have quite a good instinct for and then they'd ghost you or they'd sort of give you some sort of bluster, Like it was the best meeting of my life. You know, I was so inspired by you. I'm like, yep, well, when can we start? And then it just things didn't happen. And the staff were amazing at presenting.

Speaker 2:

And you know, when we went out to interview for people, everyone that came in it was so different to UK culture. They had researched it, they knew everything about you. They'd sent you an email in advance telling you all about your career and what they were looking forward to talking to you about. You'd meet them. They'd talk like they were A-list Hollywood actors. You'd finish the meeting. They'd send you a summary of what they learned, what they liked, why they're excited. Wow, who do we choose? They're all brilliant. I like that. And then someone said to me you know, you could go into Starbucks, take the barista from behind the counter, who doesn't even know what PR is, and they would interview better than someone from anywhere else in the world. And it's so true. There was all these like cultural nuances that it was, you know, say, language, but entirely different in terms of their approach. Plus, the Frank style was quite disruptive and challenging and didn't really resonate with the US market, where PR was a lot safer, I would say.

Speaker 2:

And we were sort of moving along and I was pitching and pitching and we'd win little things and, as I said, it wasn't a disaster because we weren't loss making, we were making a moderate amount of profit, but things were suffering and we had, we made the decision to shut it down and it was. You know, we felt like we're a little bit at the casino, sort of kept putting chips on, hoping that we're going to get the big win, and that the wins just didn't come and we were just going. You have to know when to stop and that was really tough for me. I think it was my first experience of failure at Frank and I can dress up and say it wasn't a failure because it wasn't. It wasn't.

Speaker 2:

It depends what way you look at it, but if I'm being honest with myself, of course it was a failure because otherwise I'd have hugely successful US operation and I don't. So it was a failure, but I was also, as tough as it was, quite proud that we made that decision. It was a strong decision to know when to throw the towel in, because otherwise I think we would have had real problems. But that was tough. I was probably. Is it a fuck up? Yeah, I guess I guess, so Certainly one of the toughest things I've had to deal with.

Speaker 3:

I don't think that was a fuck up, though you did all right. I mean you made a profit. It was a successful business. You just decided to focus on the UK, right?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I mean maybe more a failing than a fuck up. I'd like to think in my career I haven't majorly fucked up anything and I don't read that in an arrogant way. The thing about earned media and earned communication is it's earned, so there's no guarantees. If you're not putting spend behind something, it's not guaranteed. But you have a gut instinct of what's going to work and what's not, which is based on your experience.

Speaker 2:

And we used to pitch some pretty out there ideas and they were bold, and the client would say is it going to work? And I used to say, well, I can't promise you, but everything in my being tells me this is going to be good. I guess what I can't guarantee is how good it's going to be, because there's an element of fortune, an element of luck that comes into it and sometimes you have great ideas that just, for whatever reason, just don't fulfill their potential. But I've never pitched anything half heartedly or that I can't tell the client will work, and I'll worry about it later. We had Frank above the door. That was a license to be open and honest and that, to be fair, was my personality. That's who I am. I'm open, I'm honest, I'm not.

Speaker 2:

So did we have things that didn't work as well as I'd have liked or I'd have hoped. Yeah, sure, but did we fuck up? No, I don't think we ever had a complete disaster. I mean, it's always the fear of every publicist that they're doing a big launch announcement or a stunt and no one turns up, no one writes about it. It's horrible. I mean, it was in the olden days of PR when I say olden days I'm talking sort of mid 90s. It was kind of different Used to do these big photo calls and they were quite extravagant and expensive, and then you'd invite the world's media and the photographers to come, and until they came you didn't know if it was going to be a success or not.

Speaker 2:

And it was always my fear that you know you're there with a celebrity holding a bottle of ketchup or whatever rubbish it was that they were promoting and no one would turn up. And it only actually happened once and it wasn't my campaign. I was like, as I was very junior, I was assisting and I don't actually remember what the client was, but I remember that the photo was two sumo wrestlers, one with uni and jack sort of sumo I don't know what you call their trout, their sort of pants, padding and one american. And it was in the middle of coven garden and it was the most bizarre thing because there was these like 30 stone sumo's in these branded padded pants and no one turned up. And I remember the account director or whoever it was that was in charge, like visibly wiped that, like frantically phoning people to kind of turn up and see where they are. I think in those days there wasn't even mobile phones, so they were like going to a phone box and phoning the office and where is everyone? Where is everyone? And I remember sort of it wasn't my responsibility, I was just there, I don't know, helping the sumo's or whatever I was supposed to be doing, and I was like I never want this to happen to me like that. I never want to be in that situation but it happens.

Speaker 2:

You know we're PR people but the best PR people just they know. And then you know, even if you're you kind of have the instinct is going to work. You have the experience to set up things in advance, negotiate exclusives, get some sort of pre publicity. So even in the worst case scenario that on the day something goes wrong you've banked some stuff already. You know that's experience. But I always I loved and still do love to make clients feel comfortably uncomfortable.

Speaker 2:

You know I hate doing boring work. It's got to have an impact, it's got to make people sit up, take notice and I think that today is truer than it's ever been. You know we're just this volume of noise and what was the stat I read the other day again, I'm rubbish on sources so I don't know who said it, you'll just have to trust me but it was 97% of advertising gets ignored. Actually I had it in a pitch and the ad guy actually said he thought that percentage was higher and it's like horrifying stat 97% of ads go completely unnoticed and ignored. How hard is it to be part of the 3% that gets noticed?

Speaker 2:

And that was always my approach. You know you want to do something disruptive. That's going to stop someone scrolling, that's going to make someone talk to their friends about what they've seen or heard, that's going to make someone forward an instagram post or a tiktok video. So when you're doing that, you can't just be producing mundane crap. It's got to be interesting, it doesn't have to be controversial, but it's got a ticker box that sort, I guess, penetrates people's bullshit buffers so that they sit up and pay attention.

Speaker 2:

So that does require disruptive thinking and that is naturally going to be higher risk for a client, but the best clients and the best agencies work together to form a bond of trust where, even if something doesn't work as well as you'd like, they've understood the process from the beginning.

Speaker 1:

So can any kind of brand be disruptive, andrew? So you know I can see FMCG brands, alcohol brands, you know that's, that's easy. But what about, you know, a drier B2B brand? Can they still be disruptive, but in their own way, of course?

Speaker 2:

any brand can be disruptive. It's. It's all about, you know, not being disruptive for disruptive's sake. And, like I said, disruptive doesn't necessarily mean controversial, just means doing something in a different way. So if you're a B2B brand, I don't know from the recruitment industry the way I would think about it is you know, let's not necessarily behave like any other recruitment brand. Let's see if we can borrow some learnings from the fashion industry or the beauty industry, like how do they do their marketing? Could we, you know, mark our way in that way? Or what's everyone doing? And how do we kind of zag in a different direction?

Speaker 2:

You have to, you know, and it it's just about getting people's attention. And I think you know doing the same as everyone else a is boring. Sometimes it's not realistic because other people have got much bigger budgets or they're much better known. So trying to do the same as them but on a micro budget is always going to be a lose. So you have to disrupt, more so than ever, I think, but it's it's important and it's important for brands to understand. You know what's our message. What do we want to get out? How can we communicate in an interesting way? That's what I built my career on. Really, I find it really depressing to just see communication for the sake of communication what this year?

Speaker 3:

then, um 2024, how's the economy looking for the marketing and PR sector? Is it thriving or is it going to be, or is it going to be crap?

Speaker 2:

I think there's definitely green shoots. We've had a. It was a difficult year last year for a lot of agencies. Um, broadly because of the macroeconomic environment and, without getting too sort of detailed about it, I think the biggest challenge for agencies have been maintaining margins because there's been a cost of living I'll use the word crisis but the cost of living has increased, staff wages have inflated. Fees haven't necessarily increased proportionately. Clients, on the flip side, have been nervous because of the economy, so they've procrastinated in terms of decision making. In some instances they cut budgets, made rash decisions, but I think I mean it's obviously sector specific, agency specific, but generally people had a decent sort of trading period at the end of last year. I think they're proceeding with cautious optimism to see how they're sort of coming out of that retail period, sales period, trading period over christmas and new year and going into the new year, but generally it feels pretty buoyant.

Speaker 2:

You know the the agencies that are struggling are probably the ones that haven't managed their business as well as they should have and made difficult decisions early and earlier on in the process. You know you, if you're running an agency, you have to cut your cloth accordingly pretty quickly in terms of the level of fee income that you've got coming in. Some agencies just aren't strong enough in making those decisions at that pace required. But, um, generally I think this is going to be a really, really good year. Um, I am an optimist because I am not going to be apologetic about that.

Speaker 2:

Um, I think what we're going to see is sort of an increase in pace, slowly, slowly, slowly for the next few months, as we get towards spring, summer. I think there's going to be a boom and I mean I can see it. The M&A mark is quite a good indicator of it, because the private equity firms, the marketing services firms, they all know where they need to be by the end of the year. Last year was an okay year, but that I'm not broadly experienced in M&A. I've been doing it for three years. So my first couple of years, wow, it was like I can't believe the pace that we were working at, and last year was just notably slower.

Speaker 2:

It wasn't a disaster, but there was caution. There was buyers pulling out. There was buyers sort of knocking the price at the last minute not for a deal, because the macro environment had changed, so they were being more cautious. There were agencies that had had weak trading periods so they pulled out of sales processes because they didn't want to sort of do it when they weren't performing as well as they would like. It was all happening at a low level and there were still deals going on.

Speaker 2:

But compared to the year before, where everything we sort of touched, we sold or bought, last year was slightly slower, like still a very, very good year, but I can already see the pace picking up. Lots and lots of agency groups wanting to make acquisitions, lots of agencies wanting to sell because they feel like they're at the right time and place. There's always going to be this need for building skills, building geographies, scale, what I think is important for all, all agencies and groups. So it's been like my start to the year has been a hundred miles an hour and long. May it continue. So where?

Speaker 3:

can people find more information about you, andrew, if they want to get hold of you?

Speaker 2:

I'm a very easy man to find, unfortunately, and they can go. Got a website andrewblochcouk. I am still on ex, formerly known as Twitter, not Twitter as much as I used to at Andrew Bloch. I'm on LinkedIn at Andrew Bloch. I'm on Instagram if you want a couple of holiday photos thrown in, and I'm on TikTok if you want to see how old and out of touch with your culture?

Speaker 3:

I really am. You've been on this show. Now you get the general gist of it, and if you were us, who would you interview next for this program?

Speaker 2:

I really like people like Warren Johnson. I think is a great business person within the PR industry that really understands how to run a successful agency. I mean, I think I don't know who the specific people would be, but brands like Samsung, who work with lots and lots of agencies, I think would be interesting to understand how they manage their agency relationships. Half the agencies in London seem to have Samsung on their crits. We'd love them right brands that do it well. If you ever wanted to talk to one of the apprentice winners, something like that, they're always quite entertaining thanks for thanks for your time, andrew so I was quite keen to hear what Andrew had to say.

Speaker 1:

He was a massive hitter in the kind of the PR industry agency side yeah and now he's obviously shifted over to client side in some respects. But for me, the value in that episode was around how clients can run better briefs and run better pitches, and that is so, so important, isn't it? Because I mean, what do you think?

Speaker 3:

a third of our time has taken up spending on pitches yeah, a lot of time spent on pitches and a lot of the time you know. He referenced the fact that sometimes agencies don't get the brief right, but also sometimes clients don't get the brief right, like I was going to use an example, and we had a few technical issues with the virtual call in, so when we were discussing it it was glitching a bit. I would have given a few examples of situations we've had, but we had a brief not long back that was 12 pages long. Now I don't know about you, but a brief the word brief it's supposed to be brief and 12 pages.

Speaker 1:

And for a budget for a brief that was probably about 20 or 30,000 pounds in value. I mean, if it's a million pound brief, you'd expect 12 pages, wouldn't you? But for something and that was the point Andrew made and I think remember the time we pitched for a very well known household brand and we got through the first meeting and then we found out we're one of 12 agencies.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, and we walked away. Who's?

Speaker 1:

got that time to spend.

Speaker 3:

There's people out there and he said there's people that have he's experienced agencies that one of 10. Well, we usually say more than one of five and it's not really worth our one, because it's just not. You can't. How can you remember if you've met six or seven different people? It's difficult. I did like what I did like about it, though, what I did like about when he was referencing being memorable, because obviously if your client side, you know you meet five, six agencies it must be difficult to remember. But the boardroom with different things inside I mean we record the podcast from our boardroom We've ordered an ambulance for our boardroom, I didn't tell you and the beach he wanted a beach to.

Speaker 1:

it's crazy, but for me no one's to blame. I think there's a tendency for agencies to blame clients for bad briefs and probably clients blame agencies for missing the brief, but the takeout I got was there's an awful lot of time both parties need to put into the process. If they want to get it right, and that is a commitment, isn't it? You know you're looking at days and days and days of time.

Speaker 3:

I think just being a bit supportive of if you're going to be working together for years and years like we've got clients here that we've had eight, nine years and the best ones are when they actually listen, take your advice. You're paying an agency to work with you. You should listen. If you're paying them, listen to their advice. Some clients just want to use you as a supplier and, as he was saying, they're not. The best relationships are they when it's very transactional. Actually, I prefer relationships where you can say actually that's not going to work and being honest with each of the both ways, that's the best way to work, isn't it?

Speaker 1:

It becomes a little bit of a cliche sometimes when you say we're an extension of your team, but it's true. Those are the best possible relationships where you can have those honest conversations. But you can't force it, can you? You can't immediately get to that point, and I think that comes from trust, it comes from delivering great work, but I do believe that's something all clients should aspire to, and actually all agencies should aspire to as well.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, having a relationship between you. If you've got a good, strong relationship with a person that's leading the account and maybe one of us, when we're working with a client, we try to keep relation, we try to get involved in our client work and I think that it's the relation you are buying. People are buying from people. But I do think, going back to the brief situation, because you went through what was the perfect brief I do think that if you're getting three, I would say is the best, you'll hand pick three agencies that you want to pitch. Don't hand pick 10, get three and then get them in and if all three miss the brief, then the brief's the problem, right? Is that?

Speaker 1:

fair. I think that's fair. And the other thing I found interesting was we default to a brief, don't we? We default to a pitch scenario, but there are actually alternatives, like a live workshop or chemistry sessions.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, the tissue session.

Speaker 1:

Yeah, there's a load of different. There's a load of alternatives, but we agencies and clients tend to default to pitch scenarios every single time.

Speaker 3:

And I was listening to John Evans talking on his podcast last week and he was saying when he's client side now, or he's been client side and he's been agency side, and he said he said he was running some agency training. Right, and he said just ask the client what's the business problem? And he said I used to give this training. And he said nine out of 10 agencies ago. We can't ask him what the business problem is Like, because this is the brief, we meet the brief, we do the work, let's agree and that, oh no, ask the question why are we doing this? What's the problem? And he said if you do that, you'll stand out, you'll stand out, unless you're purely responding on a superficial basis.

Speaker 3:

Yeah, because his point was the brief usually isn't the brief, which is weird, isn't it?

Speaker 1:

And I think the final point. I was fascinated to hear his pitch, disaster story. So I would say if you're a brand or a client listening to this and you've had some sort of similar nightmare pitch scenarios where either you or the agency has done something horrific in the pitch? Please get in touch and let us know, because we'd love to hear your stories.

Speaker 3:

I'm going to end on one little story. I was once another agency before working here, so check my LinkedIn for that and we were pitching to a senior person she's now a Dame in the home office and the CEO of the agency I was just a lonely manager at the time finished his pitch there was nine of us in it from our side big agency national pitch and he went and that concludes our presentation. Any questions? And the home office guy said yeah, I'd just like to open with the fact that your campaign fundamentally lacks credibility. And it just went quiet and I thought I'm glad I'm not leading this question.

Speaker 3:

And guess what right we missed the brief because we'd missed the brief on that. And instead of defending his position, this CEO took it fair and he went. Okay, we've clearly missed the brief here, but we are very good and we'll show you. Give us another week. And we went off and read it, went back and we won it a big national thing, but those words are etched in my memory. Your campaign fundamentally lacks credibility. Anyway, thanks very much for listening to Social and Acceptable.

Maximizing Agency Relationships for Success
Andrew's mistake
Pitching Memorable Agency Pitches
Effective Brand Marketing Briefing and Pitches
Importance of Agency Website and Expansion
Navigating PR Challenges and Disruption
Agency Challenges and Client Relationships
Lack of Credibility in Campaign