News & Views

The rise of the Northern agencies: How to drive growth

by Steven Mallon
27th November 2019
The rise of the Northern agencies: How to drive growth, post image


In the first article in this series Steven Mallon, Director at Waypoint Partners unveils what some of the most successful northern agencies are doing – and why there is a fantastic opportunity for them to be the next northern success story.

At Waypoint Partners we have run and scaled agencies, walking in your shoes. With this experience we partner with agencies knowing what it’s like to be an independent agency owner, as well as being the buyer.

Key characteristics from the front line of agency life

The Northern regions of the U.K. are home to some of the most successful, ambitious and fastest growing agencies in the U.K. marketing, digital and tech sector. Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Liverpool have strong and growing clusters of agencies competing on a regional, national and sometimes international basis. But there are unique challenges faced by leaders in regional agencies as they chart and deliver growth strategies and realise agency value.

Masthead examples such as Edinburgh based bigmouthmedia (sold to LBi in 2011 in a deal worth £100M), Manchester creative agency BJL (purchased by Dentsu Aegis North early in 2019) and the acquisition of First 10 by Home to create a Leeds based superpower have shown that regional players can compete at scale to realise their full potential. These success stories are often regarded as highly exceptional, ascribed with a certain mythology and sprinkled with phrases such as ‘magic’ and ‘secret sauce’ when they are spoken of.

“the route to success for these agencies and others like them are founded in four common and replicable factors”

But the reality is that the route to success for these agencies and others like them are founded in four common and replicable factors that provide strong sign-posting to growth and value realisation for the leaders of Northern agencies today. The next set of Northern agency success stories will be those that adopt, plan, embed and drive these factors to increase agency value.

Growth plan and realising value

Regardless of whether the aim is to drive toward a sale event or simply to increase shareholder dividend the vehicle is always the same – increasing value. The route to this is embedded in the formation of a targeted and focused strategy and plan for growth that unites shareholder ambition and vision for the agency.

Many Northern agency leaders that we advise have difficulty in focusing and spending time ‘on the business’ rather than ‘in the business’.

“The balance between managing the day-to-day business requirements while driving the agency growth agenda and vision realisation forward is often the most difficult first step taken.”

Without it, true agency potential cannot be realised. Either in the natural growth of the agency supported by a concerted strategy and plan, or in terms of the market value where investors and potential buyers will demand a proven trajectory through any earn out period triggered by a sale event.

Without first aligning shareholder ambition and devising a growth plan, agency leaders will be less able to understand the strategic drivers of growth and align their agency around these to drive effective decision making, a culture of growth within their agency and the eventual realisation of value.

The other blogs in this series will look at the other common and replicable factors:

  • Value proposition
  • Profitability
  • Leveraging the benefits of the north

In early 2020 we are running agency leader events discussing some of these topics in more depth. RSVP here to register your interest.

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