‘Agencies… we love partnering with you, but please don’t ask us to lay on a working lunch for your staff’

Emily Forbes, Founder, Seenit on the successes and pitfalls of the agency/tech start-up relationship

“Some of Seenit’s best work comes in partnerships with agencies, just as long as they’re transparent about what’s going on…and don’t ask her to provide a sandwich lunch for 30.

At Seenit when we work with clients on any large external projects, it’s pretty much exclusively through agencies.

The best ones set out to build an on-going relationship with us from the start. So they learn to trust and recommend us, meaning we already have a level of credibility with their clients.

They manage the interactions with the client. For start-ups, this is critical. We are always working with limited resources, and anything that saves us time is a positive.

They really understand how the client works, the ins and outs, and what their needs are. This enables us to create stronger and more relevant work…and if something goes wrong, they know how to help us sort it out.

If you take our work with Seven League for O2 and the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), it pretty much captures how it should work with agencies. They came in and met the team, so they were aware of our size and capabilities and worked with us collaboratively to create the best possible work for the client.

Right from the first project, the aim was to work with us long-term. They didn’t want to invest the time and effort to do one pilot and just stop there. If it worked, there was an ongoing plan and a real potential to scale.

They’re very experienced in video, so we knew they could explain what we do to clients, and where necessary do the ‘translation’ work.

When it came to the second project, Seven League were able to roll us out to the client quickly and efficiently without even getting us involved.

Of the other agencies we’ve worked with, the ones that really get it include MEC, Starcom, Dentsu Aegis, Karmarama, Merchant Cantos and DigitasLBi. There are also specialist accelerators, like Collider, who help to play a big part educating both the agency and start-up side on working together.

The ones that do it best don’t waste our time or set us up to waste their time — we only need 30 minutes to present in the initial meeting — and they get the right people into the meeting.

They also understand the benefits of working with us on an ongoing basis, so that the more they use our platform, the better they understand it, and the more the client gets the other side. It’s much better to run the pilot for three months than to stop-start constantly.

That’s the good stuff. We’ve been going since 2014 and we’ve also had a few ‘fails’ with agencies along the way too.

Free lunch and other ‘fails’

We love being invited to present to agencies, but not when they say ‘let’s do it over lunch and can you bring sandwiches for everyone? It will help rally people into the room’.

It makes me feel like I’m the entertainment, and the staff are only there because they get a free lunch. We don’t even know if people will show up, or which potential roles will be in the room. This happens more than you might think and we have never got a project going off the back of them.

Some of their behaviour makes me think they just don’t understand start-ups.

Another agency gave us a 20-page partnership contract full of exclusivity agreements and extensive commission structures. The commission wasn’t just off the work we did with them, but also any work we got because of the work we did with them. Impossible to track and we didn’t even have a project lined up at this stage! We would have backed ourselves into a trap if we had signed, and we could have done three pilots for less than the legal fees would have cost us. We didn’t work with them going forward.

Some things have changed for the better in the last 12 months. I see more senior people at agencies getting involved and empowering the wider team. This also massively helps us with procurement.

We had an example when we were commissioned by a junior person in the agency a month before a campaign went live. We kicked off the work but what they didn’t realise was their procurement process took three months. We lost the job.

I’ll give the agency credit for understanding where it could do better. Now they get the PO and procurement process started as soon as possible. We’re all learning together so it’s always best to be completely open and retrospectively look at what could have been done differently from both sides.

I’d add a couple of other things to my wish-list. One is transparency. Agencies need to be clear about where they’re at with a project and with the client — is it really going to happen and is the client even on board? Getting showcased by the agency is always a positive, but only when the start-up is aware of the stage of the client relationship and can therefore make a decision as to how much time to put into the presentation. It’s easy for start-ups to get thrown into the mix just to make the agency look more innovative to the client without any real intention to work together.

The second is giving start-ups more profile. It would be great to see agencies be more open about their successes with tech, and give us a mention. Too often we just get knocked off the press release, and nobody knows we were involved. Why? If agencies made sure they championed start-ups for the work they’ve been involved in, it would create stronger more trustworthy relationships and help push the industry forward. I always get told that ‘the PR and amplification around the campaign is going to be huge, it’s a big opportunity for you, but we’re on a really tight budget…’ When I’ve gone ahead with it we’re rarely mentioned in any of the press.

We started Seenit in 2014. It doesn’t seem that long ago, but in terms of how agencies ‘get’ tech start-ups now it’s light years. Now we just need to spread some of that best practice across more of the industry.”

Emily Forbes is Founder of Seenit, a video collaboration tool with the potential to connect budding filmmakers and broadcasters with advertisers, news organisations and employers that want to source video from their audience.

Emily will be speaking, alongside additional agencies, start-ups and accelerators, at the IPA Agencies and tech start-ups town hall: sharing stories of success and learning lessons from failure event next Thursday 20 October, from 18:00–20:30. Apply for complimentary places now.

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