2019 – A year in review at the world's best B2B marketing agency
Nearly three years ago I wrote a piece entitled “An unexpected journey”. It was an honest account of the first three years of our agency’s existence. How it had come about, getting it off the ground, the foundations we’d built, and how we had just become the fastest-growing B2B marketing agency in the UK.
At the time we had 30 people, one office, and the accolade of the fastest-growing agency was, frankly, judged from our end of year one to end year two growth. We grew over 400% YoY back then, which whilst we thought impressive, is not that hard when you are growing from a small base!
Where we are right now
At the time of writing, Transmission is now six years old and to say that its growth has surpassed even my wildest expectations would be an understatement. Entering the final few days of 2019, Transmission now has offices in the UK, San Francisco, Munich, Sydney, and Singapore. The agency employs over 150 full-time people and counting. We have some unbelievable people working in the company and we work with some unbelievable clients who push us constantly to be better.
The model of our agency has evolved since its inception. It had to in order to thrive but the premise of what keeps it successful stays the same. Underpinning all of this is the appreciation that clients in our industry nowadays are rarely employing singular or specialist service agencies. Everything needs to be integrated (or “unified” as we call it) and whilst our clients always employ us for specific expertise and experience in certain areas, being capable in many more areas, being more agile than a networked agency and increasingly being more international is how we have grown. I also don’t know a single procurement department contact that is looking to “increase” the number of agencies they have on their roster!
To build an integrated agency that can compete in so many different service areas, you need some seriously smart minds with many different skill sets. We could never have done this from the get-go. We had no major outside ongoing investment, we’ve borrowed no money and we’ve had to grow organically, picking the right areas and people to invest in as we went along. Other agencies have done similar things with outside investment, through acquisitions they made or through partnerships. None are wrong in my mind but wouldn’t have been right for us on our journey so far. I personally think we did it the hard way and we’ve let our people internally guide our path.
Being integrated and full service is one thing but what we also need to be is “relevant”. And it’s in this area where we spend a serious amount of time and energy, continuously looking at ways in which we can improve in order to answer our client’s pain. Sometimes this is a process or strategy. Sometimes an idea. But often it’s about thinking more broadly about how you solve a companywide problem and not just a marketing one.
Our clients are increasingly tasked with solving a business challenge and not just delivering a marketing campaign, so we as an agency have had to evolve as such. I can only see this increasing in the future and industry-wide it’s changing the landscape of what agencies are often used for.
Certainly not all plain sailing
Over the past 12 months, we’ve definitely experienced our share of pain. In agency land of course we are often at the mercy of the unpredictability of our clients' spending with us. The word “retainer” seems to be vanishing into extinction as we move into the new decade and this only increases our lack of certainty about where and when work needs to be done.
In our early existence we could physically see the work moving around internally within the agency but as we’ve grown our ability to have visibility, optimise, predict and run a slick machine gets harder and harder. We’ve had to improve in so many areas in order to keep on top of everything. The inevitability of systems, processes, technology and of course people dedicated to supporting these areas help solve many of these problems but anyone who has worked in an agency will know it’s never perfect and just can’t be.
This year has also seen us answering an unprecedented number of potential client RFP’s. I’m happy to say that some are run well, often logical, and treated as a partnership and we’ve been happy with winning a few. However, I can’t remember a time when I’ve seen such a volume of badly managed ones. In some cases, just plain time-wasting box-ticking exercises with no chance of winning or vague detail about what is required.
This is an industry-wide problem and always has been, but we’ve learned a few lessons this year that will help guide our decision on those that we are now prepared to answer (or not) moving forward. Agencies absolutely need a policy setting out their minimum requirements for detail. They need an appropriate level of contact with the right client stakeholders (preferable those they will be working with) and they need clear guidelines for assessment criteria around the areas that underpin the brief.
Our international growth in 2019, as you would expect, drove its own set of challenges and many not necessarily in the areas we had predicted. We were lucky enough in that the issue of who was going to go and actually move or be employed (to open the offices) was thankfully never an issue. The physical process of doing it, whilst fairly painful in the set up and time intensive, was not the hardest part. What was more difficult lay in our ability to predict exactly the services that each market would require and those that would resonate locally.
Simply taking what had been successful in Europe and presuming, with a good gut feel, some knowledge, and maybe some existing client’s international offices having early interest, was very different from doing it and making it a success. The reality is that, how agencies are set up, what they are used for, the maturity of different marketing methodologies, marketing technology and its usefulness and appropriateness in different geos, and much more, can vary significantly.
I think we responded quite quickly to where we saw our clients and the wider market’s pain, but it was definitely a learning curve. Knowing what to build, who to hire with what skillset and experience become easier over time but means you must have a bit of blind faith at the start. And of course, very good people locally driving these key decisions.
Taking stock of 2019 and then looking to push on
This year has been very kind to us. We continue to grow as an agency and moving into 2020 we are now looking at several different avenues for maintaining our relevance and growing our footprint.
Reflecting on 2019, I look back at what we’ve achieved this year and I find it quite surreal. Starting the year with offices in two countries and ending with offices in five has been quite something for us. I’m very proud and grateful in equal measure for our team who have helped make this happen and our clients that have chosen to work with us locally with these offices.
It’s always nice in the agency industry to win an award or two. Historically we’ve won a few for our client work and this year was no different. But this year we won a few accolades for the overall agency’s success. Over the course of 2019 we won four separate “agency of the year” awards from different industry bodies, two of which were against all UK HQ’d marketing agencies, including consumer ones.
In early 2019 we were named the 67th fastest-growing company in Europe by the Financial Times newspaper. In October we were included in eConsultancy’s Top 100 Global Digital Agencies list. In November we were named 8th in The Drum’s top 100 independent agency list, the only B2B agency anywhere in the top 25. And finally, in December we placed the 43rd fastest growing UK-based private company in the Sunday Times newspaper’s Fast Track 100 list.
I said in the piece I wrote three years ago that “I never wanted to build something that was the biggest, but I did want it to be the best. Those who know me will have heard me say this so many times.” But, if in the search for trying to be the best, you need to scale and find that “relevance” in more places and spaces, then this is what we will do. With the support of our amazing team who dedicate their passion and energy to make us who we are. And with the support of our clients, who continue to back us and trust us to deliver. We continue our unexpected journey.
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