At Adweek’s inaugural Fastest Growing Agencies event last week, the CEOs of four agencies that landed on this year’s list came together to share their growth stories and advice for others that might be thinking about going out on their own.
From pitching to partnerships, each exec gave insights into how they’ve managed to grow in an industry that’s changing at a fast clip as marketers’ needs evolve.
They also discussed some of the issues and broader trends that have managed to upend the industry, and what they’re doing to ensure they keep growing despite it all.
The panelists kicked things off by examining some of the issues that they believe are currently plaguing the advertising industry.
Meryl Draper, co-founder and CEO of video agency Quirk Creative, criticized the “ludicrous” pitching process that agencies are subjected to. She said the industry should “collectively come together and put our foot down” to put a stop to it.
“We have grown as a no-pitch agency, which I’m really excited about,” she said. “It’s stifling growth in the industry, and I think it’s got to stop.”
Teneshia Jackson Warner, founder and CEO of multicultural agency Egami Group, said that even in 2019, brands are still struggling to see the value of what a firm like hers can offer.
“I still have quite a bit of conversation with prospective clients to say, ‘Yeah, you do need to pay attention to multicultural audiences,” Warner said. “It still feels, in some cases, like a big sale to convince the industry that it’s needed. You would think in this day and age [that] we’d be beyond that.”
Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder of influencer marketing agency Obviously, said she thinks that agencies need to do a better job of determining—and communicating—what it is that makes them unique.
“I think it’s [tough] for a lot of agencies to say how they’re truly differentiated,” she said, explaining that many are quick to boast of their “ideas” and “talent,” both of which can be found at many places.
At Obviously, she said the agency’s technology platform helps separate it from the pack.
“For us, the biggest thing was creating a strong tech foundation and backbone,” said Karwowski. “That’s the core of our business.”
Between in-house offerings, consultancies and project-based work, brands have many options when it comes to who or what they turn to for marketing purposes. During the panel, each CEO shared how they’ve managed to attract clients.
Draper said that Quirk Creative’s decision to specialize in video content has helped it grow exponentially.
“I think the best move we made as an agency was when we decided to specialize in video,” said Draper. “Specialization is so much easier to sell than generalization. The minute we made that pivot in our messaging and our offering, revenue just went through the roof.”
Tom O’Keefe, founder and CEO of Chicago-based agency O’Keefe Reinhard & Paul Chicago, said that partnering with talent outside of its walls has helped it grow and take its creativity up a notch.
“You’re not always going to be able to get the best talent in-house,” said O’Keefe. “You’re not going to be able to hire all of the best thinkers and creative people today, because being in advertising isn’t necessarily the first place they want to go.”
He said the agency partners with freelancers, studios, think tanks and strategists to make up for that.
“Having those partnerships has been important as we expand,” he said.
Warner echoed that sentiment, explaining that Egami Group’s willingness to work with other agencies has helped it get a seat at the table.
“We’re very open to working with other agency partners,” she said. “We realize, especially in a world where consolidation is happening over and over again, that we have to be flexible.”