Episode 158:

Remember when it sounded crazy to remote employees scattered all over the country?  Or even crazier, in multiple countries? The truth is today, it’s becoming the norm rather than the exception.

Many agencies are choosing a hybrid approach, with a central office and staff in a brick and mortar location, but also with remote full-time and part-time workers. Some agencies are going all-in on remote work, ditching the central office and becoming, in the words of my podcast guest for this episode, “location-agnostic.”

I am intrigued by this, to say the least. I worked for and built businesses in an era when you went where the work was, whether you loved that particular center of commerce or not. But our business is changing, and the agency owners I work with are shifting into this new normal as well.

I had some big questions about becoming totally location-agnostic. How do you develop a strong culture when you all work in different places? How do the clients feel about it? How do you do the collaborative work that agencies are known for when you are scattered all over?

My guest on this episode is Brendon Craigie, co-founder and managing partner at Tyto PR. Tyto is a pan-European company with a fully location-agnostic staff.

Is building a healthy and happy work culture possible with an all-remote team? Brendon is finding the answer to that is a resounding “yes!” But there is more to his company than a remote workforce. They are intentionally flat, hiring well-seasoned creative “black belts” rather than having junior-level staff as worker bees. They are finding this to be a business model that’s rewarding to clients as well as the firm itself.

In his role, Brendon leads the agency and is heavily involved in counseling clients on strategic and creative matters. As an experienced global CEO, he also enjoys working closely with other CEOs on broader business and communications strategies.

Prior to launching Tyto, Brendon was the global CEO of Hotwire. As part of Hotwire’s founding team, he rose through the ranks to become CEO, and during his six-year tenure in the position he doubled the company’s size and repositioned it into a top 50 global challenger brand. Brendon’s achievements were recognized through multiple awards.

Brendon has worked across Europe, Asia, and the U.S. with a host of global names including Cisco, Microsoft, and Google. During his career, Brendon has helped to devise strategies and support campaigns for high-growth companies entering Europe to grow their brands and business. These campaigns often extended several years and included several early-stage companies, such as GoPro and BlackBerry, that have become multibillion-dollar successes, while others achieved the exits they desired.

 

 

What You Will Learn About in This Episode:

  • The virtues of being a location-agnostic company
  • The logistics and financial implications of an all-remote workforce
  • Creating a culture in a virtual agency
  • Building a flat organization with seasoned, high-level, customer-facing staff
  • When you meet with colleagues, how to meet with a purpose
  • How to bring the best ideas forward through a “creative sprint” process
  • When and how a virtual workforce can get together in the real world – preferably for a mix of work and play
  • A cost/benefit analysis of having a staff of seasoned professionals
  • How to angle for that non-contested pitch to your ideal clients
  • Baking insight and research into the way you do business and how you get new business.

The Golden Nuggets:

“All the things you do to build a culture in a standard office, can be done in a location-agnostic environment as well.” – @brendoncraigie Click To Tweet “Having this team of people that come from different places, who are coming at things from different perspectives, brings more creativity to our clients.” – @brendoncraigie Click To Tweet “Because we have this seasoned group of professionals that have worked in agencies and know what they're doing, we never end up with a terrible idea or strategy.” – @brendoncraigie Click To Tweet “With an all-remote staff, the tradeoff of higher travel costs is more than offset by the savings in office infrastructure.” – @brendoncraigie Click To Tweet

 

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Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better agency. Today I want to talk about a lot of different things with my guest. Brendon Craigie is from the UK, you’ll hear it in his accent immediately. But he’s worked globally for most of his career and I’ll have him tell you a little bit more about some of the agencies that he’s worked at. He’s worked for huge, large agencies and just in this last year or so in October of 2017 he left an agency and started his own. And he’s got some really interesting ideas for the agency that he’s building. It’s really a pan-Asian agency working globally across Europe and Asia and into the U.S. as well in a new way of thinking about PR. And they’ve got some really interesting structure around their agency so we’re going to dig into all of that.

What I’m hoping to talk to him about is a variety of things. One, he’s been pretty vocal about his opinion of how PR is changing and how he wanted to build a different kind of PR agency, which by the way, is applicable to you if you are a traditional agency, a marketing agency, a digital shop, it doesn’t matter, his ideas are still applicable to all of us. But I think that there’ll be some interesting conversation around that.

He also, their agency is what they call location-agnostic, many of you would call that a virtual agency. And I want to dig into how they made the decision to go that way from the very beginning, and now several months into the experiment how it’s working and how they are creating culture and continuity in an agency where no one is in the same place at the same time on a daily basis. So we have lots to talk about with Brendon and I think you’re going to find the conversation very applicable to you, very useful and my hope is very practical. So let’s just get started. All right, without further ado, I want to welcome Brendon Craigie to the podcast. Brendon, thanks for joining us.

Brendon Craigie:

It’s a pleasure. Glad to be here.

Drew McLellan:

Tell everybody a little bit about your background and how you came to be in the role that you’re in today.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, well, I mean, I guess winding back to the beginning I studied politics. I was heavily involved in student newspapers, organizing events on campuses and things. And so I thought to myself what could I do from a career perspective which would allow me to bring those passions for influencing people into my career and I decided public relations was the route for me. And then I started off working for a large global agency called Weber Shandwick. Was there for about 18 months and then the founder of the division I was working on which was focused on technology left to start a new agency which was called Hotwire. And I was young and bold and didn’t really have any fear and so I thought the idea of joining a startup sounded like a really brilliant idea.

Drew McLellan:

Of course.

Brendon Craigie:

And so I joined this startup agency and I was one of the first five employees. And from that point I stayed with that agency for 17 years and saw it go from a few people to being 250 people spanning across continental Europe, Australia, and the U.S. And for the final six years of my time with the agency I was the global CEO, so I run a global agency. And majority of my time I was based out of Europe but traveling internationally but for the last two years I was working out of New York and San Francisco. I’ve got quite a broad international perspective on public relations and growing an international agency.

And then 18 months or so I’m about to turn 40. In the businesses I was the CEO of, I was not the owner of, I was reporting to a public holding company and I just thought I wanted to create something new, I wanted to create something fresh. And I was really drawn to the idea of starting with a blank sheet of paper and thinking about how I could take everything I’d learned and create something completely different. And so in October of 2017 I founded a new agency called Tyto which is a pan-European agency focused on the colliding worlds of technology, science, and innovation. And yeah, we’re just over six months in, we’ve got 14 employees, a bunch of clients and it’s going really well.

Drew McLellan:

How does it feel? I mean, 20 years ago you were part of a startup and now 20 years now you’re not only part of a startup but it’s your startup so the financial implications obviously are different. What did you take with you from the first experience you had, a kid right out of school joining an agency, how did you apply that learning to what you’re doing today? What were some of the rules for yourself or were some of the, I want to remember these lessons as you were launching your new agency?

Brendon Craigie:

Well, I mean, I think in a startup environment, I think it is all about the hustle, the energy.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Brendon Craigie:

But I guess really I think there’s two things to building a successful agency from the early days. One, I think you need to have a clear sense of your own vision and purpose and what you’re trying to do, and that needs to make sense to more people than yourself otherwise it’s not really going to be very successful. It needs to be something that’s going to resonate with people. But then you need a lot of hustle and passion and you’ve got to be out there networking, meeting people, telling people the story. So I think it’s that combination of having a clear proposition and strategy which is differentiated, but then having the energy and the enthusiasm to back it up.

Drew McLellan:

I know you said that the focus of the new agency or the DNA of the new agency is this mix of technology and science and innovation. Talk to us a little bit about… Because I think a lot of agencies are wrestling with what is the place of all of that inside their agency especially if they’re a traditional agency they’ve been around for a long time. How do you wrap your work in and around all of that?

Brendon Craigie:

Well, I mean, I think as you go through your career certain expressions stay with you. And I think that one of those expressions that stuck with me over the years is that people hire specialists they don’t hire generalists-

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Brendon Craigie:

… From a sector perspective. And so that’s why we’re rooted in a specialism. But I think what I learnt from my last agency is if you pin your self to a very specific area then it can potentially be limiting…

Drew McLellan:

Especially as crazy as the world is today with all the change and speed of change, yeah.

Brendon Craigie:

Exactly and then I guess… That’s why we didn’t go for tech specifically. But I think the other reason why we didn’t just go for the tech is that we think the world has changed and technology is, everyone is a technology company. Innovation is the mantra of any business and science is integral to technology and that technology is the application of science. And so we really wanted something that was a little bit broader. It helped that my co-founder came from a science comms background. And so yes, we want it to be a specialist but we wanted to just have a slightly different take on things.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. So the agency, I know you’ve been writing about a lot and I’ve been reading your take on PR agencies of old versus PR agencies today. Talk to us a little bit about your view of how does one, because this is what you’re doing right now, how does one build a PR agency for the modern age and how is it different and how do you position it differently than the old school PR?

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, I mean, I think we haven’t written it but we actually started writing a book about PR and a lot of the thinking that was going to go into that book actually then went into the agency. And I think what we came away from that review of public relations and the discussions around it was that on one hand there seems to be this general feeling that is PR dead, there’s a lot of discussion around that. And then at the same time reputation has never been more important.

And I think that sometimes people think about different… I think sometimes people get caught up in the semantics of the different ways that people communicate rather than actually thinking about the big picture. I think the big picture is that PR is about helping companies to build and manage and evolve their reputations. And so from our perspective we thought PR isn’t dead. But then I think in terms of communicating in the modern age that you do need a broader set of skills through which you then look to build and manage reputation.

And so, yes, I guess we’ve really looked at what does PR mean in the modern world. And I think it’s about… Yeah, it’s about helping companies to develop their story and then tell their story and then influence the people that matter. And I think that whole area of who is influential in the world today is interesting. It’s quite common if you’re walking or working in agencies today for people to be a little bit down on the media, a little bit down on media relations, treat it as a commodity. They see it as a commodity product. But we think that the media is highly influential and that the media aspects of public relations is very important.

But we want it to look at that within a wider context. So one of the first thing that we did was in the buildup to launching our agency is we did our own little bit of proprietary research where we were looking at the 500 most influential people in technology. And we cast a really wide net so we weren’t limiting it specifically to journalists, but we’re looking at broad business influences. And then we created an objective methodology for evaluating influence which included social media influencing, included profile and presence at conferences, media profile, the domain authority of blogs and so we look to influence in the widest possible sense.

And as a consequence of that we ended up with these 500 influential people. About 150 of them are journalists but 350 of them were just broader influencers. And I think that bit of research in a way ties back to this conversation about public relations in that it’s about helping your clients to influence agendas, be positioned as thought leaders but in order to do that I can’t overlook the media but you need to think a little bit more widely than just the traditional media.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I think that’s one of the biggest changes, is that it used to be where you had your media list of the reporters and editors of the X number of publications that had influence in your space and if you’ve got a story and some of those, you could check the box and you were done. But now the people who tell the stories are much broader and they’re not as defined by their title anymore, now it’s… You’re right, I think you have to do more investigating to figure out who are the influencers. You create relationships with them, and it’s not as clean as just pitching a story anymore.

Brendon Craigie:

No.

Drew McLellan:

Because now some influencers want to get paid. Reporters obviously can’t get paid. You’ve got all kinds of different things so I think in some ways the PR world is, A, more relevant but, B, more complicated than it used to be.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think it’s having some rigor around that. I think it’s fine to have your Rolodex of influences in journalists, what we really wanted to do is to put a little bit of science around how we determined who was and wasn’t influential and not limited to one particular metric but actually look at a broader sense of what it means to be influential.

Drew McLellan:

The list of metrics you talked about, some of them were… What their role was in the industry some of it was about their presence in key shows and events.

Brendon Craigie:

Right, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Some of it was their authorship of thought leadership material and the domain strength of their own personal media channels. What were some of the other things that-

Brendon Craigie:

Well, the strength of their individual networks, so how connected were they on LinkedIn, how connected were they through social media, how widely were they written about, how prominent were they in the media? So a real a mix of everything that you can possibly objectively determine.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Recently you wrote a piece about some of the things that you think a lot of PR agencies are clinging to from the past that perhaps they need to shed like the idea of filling their ranks. I know one of the goals you and your agency was to fill your staff with people who had communications black belts, I guess.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Talk a little bit about that in contrast to, I think based on what you wrote what I think is you’re saying is a lot of PR shops are filling their ranks with what I call junior woodchucks, super young people who don’t have a lot of experience.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. Yeah, and I mean, with these types of things it’s very hard sometimes to separate your own personal interest and passion with what’s necessarily the right thing to do. But from my perspective having run a large agency I wanted to be surrounded by people that could challenge me and that could create this virtuous circle of people with experience that could challenge each other into doing the very best possible work.

And so I think some of that, making the argument for that is I think if you look at the traditional agency model agencies are structured around pyramids, you have a few senior people at the top, lots of junior people at the bottom. In London, for instance, an account executive who might have a couple years experience will be charged out £100 an hour. If you annualize that over the year they’ll be expected to build clients about £120,000 a year and those individuals are probably been paid £20,000 a year. So you have a situation where clients are paying a £20,000 a year resource, £120,000 a year. And from a client perspective that doesn’t seem to be good value.

Drew McLellan:

It certainly gives impetus to the argument of why so many clients are creating their own in-house departments.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, I think that’s a very good point, yeah. And so we’ve just gone down a very different approach. We’re looking to hire people that have perfected and honed their skills and want to work in environment where they can be practitioners rather than managers. And so, yeah, it’s just creates a very different type of dynamic. I think that for people going through the traditional agency career ladder, they get to account manager or account director and they’re increasingly forced down the route of becoming managers and in the process they stop learning. From a communications perspective the learning dries up. They learn from being in a management perspective but that’s not necessarily the path that everyone wants to go down.

And so we’ve got quite a niche profile of the person that we’re looking for, which is people that really enjoy what they do. They want to continue to perfect their skills and they want to become these communications black belts rather than become managers. And so, yeah, it’s a different approach. It works well for us it might not be right for everyone, but I think what it means is that we’ve got a team of people that are operating at the very highest possible level. The lowest common denominator in our team is still someone with a tremendous amount of experience and skills and it just creates a really dynamic environment.

Drew McLellan:

As I’m listening to you I’m thinking about a couple of things. One, one of the reasons why agencies are structured and as you call it the pyramid model is because the economics of that are the agencies may have to pay their top tier people, obviously a larger salary and not everybody’s billable all of the time. And so one of the economics is if my more junior people are the workhorses in terms of billable hours, they then support some of the higher level people being sometimes billable, sometimes not billable, maybe they’re more involved in the development of other things. I’m curious, how does it economically work for you? If everybody is more of a senior level person, how are you finding economics of that so far?

Brendon Craigie:

I think you obviously need to have an idea of what their value is and you need to have a clear understanding of what’s your business model in order to make those… The fact you’re paying people higher salaries, profitable, but that’s really just about ratios between what you charge and the cost of those individuals. I think we have a very lean model so we don’t have many operationals, well, we don’t have any operational support people because I think there’s so many cool technologies today to make those things easier. And I think also if you have a team of people who have a lot of experience, they’re self-managed, they require less of that support structure-

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely, I agree.

Brendon Craigie:

… In order to support them. We have a slightly different model in that we’re location-agnostic and we don’t have an office. So when you… I guess really what we did is that we had this vision that we wanted to be the perfect partner to our clients. And what we wanted to do was to really double down on the things that we thought made a difference to our clients and talent is obviously one, and really stripped away the things that we don’t think make a difference. And so like you say, a lot of those top heavy agency structures, a lot of those roles are really, they’re not client-facing roles, they’re not roles that make a difference to clients. They’re there to keep the machine running, and I think our model just requires less of that infrastructure to be successful.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, do you think that the model that you’re building now, do you think that that limits you in terms of size? Can you be a 200-person agency in the model you’re building or… And I know that may not be your goal at all. I’m just thinking as I’m listening to you talk and I’m thinking, “Okay, if everybody is at a senior level and so basically you’re a very flat organization, then-

Brendon Craigie:

I mean…

Drew McLellan:

Does that put any limits on growth, do you think?

Brendon Craigie:

I think it potentially puts limits on growth in maybe potentially in particular geographies but initially we’re focusing on Europe so we’re looking to build a pan-European team that works as one across borders which we can maybe talk a little bit more about that later.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Brendon Craigie:

As a consequence we might have this large team but it might be spread out over multiple countries and people might have focuses on different countries and things. I think it’s not a model to build the next best most stellar or maybe the world doesn’t need another best most stellar.

Drew McLellan:

Well, you know what I think? Most agencies are finding that they can be very efficient and effective at a smaller size and so why have the infrastructure, and to your point, why have all of that if it doesn’t serve the client and it doesn’t serve the purpose and goal of the agency owners?

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah.

Brendon Craigie:

I think… I mean, I guess the thing that was interesting for us was that we saw talent as being integral to our success and we just saw this gap in the market. As much as we saw a gap in the market for clients we actually saw a gap in the market for talent. There are lots of these people, these seasoned professionals. And when I say seasoned professionals we’re talking seven, 10 years experience where they really wanted to focus on their career and develop their skills but maybe they have other things going on in their life so maybe they don’t want to live and commute into a big city every day.

Often what happens with those types of individuals is they end up going to work for a less ambitious agency or even making career changes in order to compensate, it’s to facilitate their life choices. And so what we saw was the opportunity to create a different type of agency model which allow people to maintain their ambitions, not compromise on those but to also incorporate life changes.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. I think that’s a trend that we’re certainly seeing in agencies all across the world and I think a mix of things. One, I think technology makes it a lot easier, two, I think generationally you are of the generation, you said that you’re just knocking on the door of 40, you’re of the generation where I think people feel like they have the right to put their life choices in front of their professional walls. Whereas I’m 55 and that was not a well-received message. When I was early in my career you just did what you had to do. You worked 60 hours, you took the job wherever the job was and you moved your family and packed it up because that was how you grew in your career.

So I think we’re seeing some very big societal changes that are supported by technology making it possible. I think the model that you’re building is very much the model that a lot of agencies are going to be evolving into if they haven’t already, because I think the workforce is digging their heels in a little bit and saying, “I don’t want to live in London, New York, or Chicago, or wherever. I want to live wherever I want to live but I still want to be really good at my job, I want to be well-compensated for my job, but I believe I can have both.”

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. And I think by virtue of the fact that I spent most of my career working in the tech industry I then also looked at a lot of tech companies and it’s increasingly common. There’s one company called [Automic 00:25:12] which is the company behind WordPress. They started with a few individuals working remotely, they’ve now got 500 people working around the world in this location-agnostic model so maybe we could become a 500-person agency. And as I said there’s a lot of businesses that are building around this model. So it’s not just about the future of agency, I think it’s about the future of business.

Drew McLellan:

I think you’re absolutely right, yeah. I wanted to talk a little bit about the whole location-agnostic thing, but let’s first take a quick break and then we’ll come back and we’ll jump into that. If you’ve been enjoying the podcasts and you find that you nodding your head and taking some notes and maybe even taking some action based on some of the things we talk about, you might be interested in doing a deeper dive. One of the options you have is the AMI Remote Coaching. That’s a monthly phone call with a homework in between. We start off by setting some goals and prioritizing those goals and we just work together to get through them.

It’s a little bit of coaching, it’s a little bit of best practice, teaching, and sharing. It’s a little bit of cheerleading sometimes. On occasion you’re going to feel our boot on your rear end, whatever it takes to help you make sure that you hit the goals that you set. If you would like more information about that, check out agencymanagementinstitute.com\coaching. Okay, let’s get back to the show.

All right, welcome back everybody. Where we took a quick was we’re just getting ready to talk about this idea of location-agnostic. And if you are a regular listener of the podcast that I’ve talked to other agency owners who don’t have an office space but their employees are scattered all over the country or the globe. And so I want to dig into that a little bit with you, Brendon. A, was that ever not your first choice? Did you ever think about actually having an office or did you immediately know that you wanted to be location-agnostic?

Brendon Craigie:

Well, I think when we created the agency we had this concept of developing a new operating model which we call PR Without Borders. And so one element of that was really about recognizing that the line between PR and marketing is blurred and we were comfortable operating over those blurry lines. But the second element of it was actually that I’d worked in an international agency which is very much structured around individual country and entities.

So you would have a whole management structure built around Germany or the UK and France, and part of the location-agnostic point was about the fact that I wanted to build a team that worked as one across Europe as one unit. So in some ways offices are an inhibitor to that because-

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right.

Brendon Craigie:

… As you start putting offices in-place you create silos. And so we saw the modern world of business as being across borders, being more international in outlook. And so a big part of the location-agnostic model was actually just how do we create an international agency that works across multiple countries? How do we do that? And so that’s part of the background to the location-agnostic model.

But the other part of it was on a personal level wanting to have the freedom to decide where I wanted to live and not actually thinking I’ve got to live here, I’ve got to do this. The commutes in the UK for instance are terrible. I’ve got to do this one hour, this one and a half hour commute every day and I… I didn’t want to do that, so that was another part of it and I felt other people felt the same thing.

And then also just in terms of setting up the agency I spoke to probably 200 people, clients and potential clients, and I was just very curious to understand how often do people meet with their clients. And the average time people would meet with our clients is once every two months. So all of these things put together in terms of a strategic sense of purpose but also this sense of how do we tap into this market of talent that maybe doesn’t want to do all of the commutes and things. And then we looked at the world of tech and what businesses are doing and that’s when we came up with this location-agnostic model.

Basically what we say is that if you come, you want to work for us, we don’t mind where you want to work. If you want to work in an office, say someone’s just recently joined us they want to work in office, we set them up in a coworking office. If you want to work from home we’ll set you up with all of the IT that you need. We’ll provide you with a monthly stipend, cover your home office costs and we’ll operate like that. That’s the background to the location-agnostic model. And then in practice what we’ve really learned from it is that when everyone is remote no one feels remote.

Drew McLellan:

Right, right.

Brendon Craigie:

Basically we don’t send any internal emails, we use Slack for all of our communications. We use Zoom not just formerly for scheduled meetings and things but we use it in the same way as you might tap someone on the shoulder and say, “Can I chat five minutes?” And so we’ve been able to build the sense of being in the same office even though we’re spread over four different countries at the moment. And it’s been great fun and it’s just worked, it’s worked seamlessly.

Drew McLellan:

Some people who have traditional offices and I’ve had conversations with them about even having a remote employee or anything, and for them one of the concerns they have is around creating culture and I think culture is created by physically sharing experiences and by being in-place. What are you guys doing to cultivate culture and nurture culture in your agency?

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. I think clearly what you need people to do is to truly buy into your project. I think on one hand the people that come to work for us really buy in to this location-agnostic model. That creates a spirit in and of itself where people want to defend it, want to invest in it, want it to work. That’s like I think an underpinning of it. But then I think what we’ve done is we have the same kind of things that you would normally have in-office. We have a weekly meeting at the beginning of the week where we talk about stuff. We have Friday drinks on a Friday where we have Friday drinks and people sit in front of their computer with a drink and we talk about things.

And then another thing we do is we have these hack weeks. Every two or so two or three months we get everyone together and we work from one location for a week together, so we do actually physically get together one week and every two or three months and we’ll choose somewhere fun to do that. We’ve done that in Valencia, Spain a few times, and that helps to build a culture. Because you’re not only working together but you’re going out at night, you’re having fun, you’re doing training.

And then the other thing, and this is by far and away the most important thing, is that being location-agnostic and being remote doesn’t mean that you don’t see your colleagues, it just means that you meet with a purpose. We meet for a pitch, we meet for client meetings. So we probably see each other two or three times a week, it’s just that we’re not just meeting to turn up at an office we’re actually meeting with a purpose.

Drew McLellan:

But when you meet for example for a client pitch, it’s not all of you?

Brendon Craigie:

No, no, no. Yeah. Just it’ll be subsets of the people that are irrelevant to that. But I do think it’s incredibly different to have one or two isolated individuals that are working remotely because they feel left out, they get left out or the teams internally have to go out of their way to involve them in things. But when everyone is in the same boat no one actually feels remote and all the things-

Drew McLellan:

That’s a really great point.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. And all the things you do to build a culture in an office, you do them, you have to do them. And, yeah, everyone’s committed to them because everyone’s invested in what you’re trying to do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, and I think your point about when everyone is remote no one feels remote because a lot of times when I hear someone talking about that remote doesn’t work or that somebody feels disconnected, it’s really when it’s a hybrid, when there is a physical office and people forget to dial so-and-so in or or they miss out on some of the jokes or some of the things, because they don’t participate as fully in some of the just organic connections that happen inside an office. But you’re right, when there is no gathering place that you don’t all share then it would be harder to feel left out.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, definitely.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. It’s a great point. Did you have any clients who pushed back on the location-agnostic thing or wanting you to have… You weren’t official if you didn’t have an office and a meeting and all of that?

Brendon Craigie:

I mean, we work for some tech startups, but then we also work with some billion dollar companies and actually they think it’s innovative and they see the type of talent that you’ve got working for you, and that’s what they care about. I think the other thing that was a big concern for us or something that we wanted to prioritize was creativity. And I always felt working in an international agency that often what happened was all of the ideas came out from one city and then they were shipped out to other people for localizing and things.

And I think having this team of people that is coming at things from different perspectives actually brings more creativity to our clients so I think there’s some real added benefits to that. And then we’ve actually developed a methodology, which again is born out of Silicon Valley thinking “Our creative sprint process.” And the way that works is that rather than stick everyone into a room to brainstorm where often the conversation is dominated by one person, there’s no real preparation and the quite narrow ideas, what we do is we make a real point of understanding what the client’s business challenge is. We do some research around it and then we get five to seven of our employees to think about that challenge.

We say, “Go away, spend a couple of days thinking about it. Go for a walk, just really think about how you would approach that challenge and then write up what your approach it would be, and then present that back to the team.” We then present that back to each other on a video call. We select the best idea and we prototype and test it. But I guess really that’s a really good example of where we’ve taken what might be perceived to be a negative, which is that we can’t get into a room and do a brainstorm and we’re creating something which actually is much more effective as a result.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Well, I think a lot of agencies are struggling with the old brainstorm model. So whether they’re physically together or not I think they’re finding the exact same limitations that you just listed off as a challenge. The sprint idea is an interesting one. Talk to us a little bit more about how do the ideas get collected, is it all done verbally? Is it done in a Slack channel? What’s the actual process around that sprint?

Brendon Craigie:

Well, I mean, I think the originating point is that… We say that we’re focused on helping clients solve business challenges through the power of communications. And so what that means is that when we first engaged with a client and thinking about ideas we’re very obsessed about understanding what the business challenge is. Often you get secondary points which don’t necessarily tie back to exactly what is the business challenge. The first thing is we’re obsessed about that.

And then we do some research around that so that when we’re providing our team a brief it’s not just a partial picture but we give them what they need to do, meet what they need in order to think about that challenge properly. And then we put this five to seven people on it. We asked them to go and think about it and then present a single sheet of paper or a slide if you want to be more modern, and then they literally photograph it, put it up into a Slack channel. We then have a video call where everyone presents that individual sheets of paper an idea and then we vote on them. We do these without our clients if let’s say it’s for a new business, but we actually include the client in the process if it’s for an existing client. And we give the client three votes so they have a disproportionate influence on which gets chosen and everyone else gets one vote.

Drew McLellan:

Interesting.

Brendon Craigie:

That’s how it works. Yes, that’s how it works.

Drew McLellan:

Do your clients love that, getting to be involved? Some agencies would say, “We don’t want to let the client behind the curtain, we don’t want them to see us when we don’t have our heads on straight yet that we’re still thinking. Some agencies would be afraid of that, so what is the client’s reaction then to that?

Brendon Craigie:

I mean, really positive, because I think if we had a team of 20-year-olds coming up with ideas to very sophisticated business challenges I think we could fall flat on our face, but because we’ve got this seasoned group of comms professionals that have worked in agencies, worked in in-house and really know what they’re doing, you don’t really ever end up with a terrible idea or strategy. You might get some seven out of 10 ideas and approaches but you’re not getting fives or less. And so actually I think the experience of clients has been really positive because it’s almost it’s demonstrating to them the quality of your team. It’s also a lot of those people won’t necessarily work on their accounts so it’s also demonstrating the breadth of experience that you have as a team as well.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think the other thing too is as we know from the old brainstorming model, sometimes a horrible idea is what triggers a better idea.

Brendon Craigie:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.

Drew McLellan:

And so it makes sense to have that conversation with the client in the room because they have a context that we can’t possibly have.

Brendon Craigie:

Exactly. Yeah, now I agree.

Drew McLellan:

And so from your perspective is there any downside to the location-agnostic? Is there anything that’s like, “Oh, I sure missed this about having an office or about having us all physically in the same place,” or for you has it been all upside?

Brendon Craigie:

I mean, I think the only thing that you have to tolerate is a higher travel cost.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, right. But you don’t have offices, right?

Brendon Craigie:

You don’t have offices. No, you don’t have any that fixed overhead and we use Breather a lot. It took off in the States but it’s in London now. So that’s a service where you can rent a meeting room for an hour or two hours. From an infrastructure point of view we’ve been able to create the same quality of infrastructure if not better than you would get in a traditional office environment. And so the only downside is that your travel costs are higher.

Drew McLellan:

Do you have plans? I know some agencies that are location-agnostic, which I love much better than virtual, by the way, I love that expression. Some of them will physically bring their team together not for a client thing, not for anything else but think of it as an annual meeting or a retreat planning session. Have you done that or-

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, yeah.

Drew McLellan:

Or do you think you can do that?

Brendon Craigie:

I think I mentioned we have this concept we call hack weeks. We’ve been going since- [crosstalk 00:42:46].

Drew McLellan:

And so you physically come together?

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, we physically come together. We’ve been going since… Sorry, October. We had one in September, we had one in December, we had one in February…

Drew McLellan:

So you’re doing it?

Brendon Craigie:

You’re right.

Drew McLellan:

You’re physically together every few months.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, actually. Every few months we physically get together. We do show what entails in terms of what people have been up to. We do training, we organize full days of training, and then we have fun. So we do fun stuff in the evening. We’ve done Paella making in Valencia, we’ve done paddle boarding, we’ve done escape rooms, we’ve done all sorts of different stuff.

Drew McLellan:

That only agencies would go, “Yes, we should do an escape room, or we should play pinball together.”

Brendon Craigie:

But to me, again once you’ve been doing this for a while, you want to have fun while you’re doing it so all of those things help to build culture and help people to buy into the model.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. What’s new business look like for you? How are you guys generating new clients, how are you getting out there? You’re relatively new so how are people finding out about you? How are you leveraging your own influence and what’s the business development process look like for you?

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. I mean you asked earlier about going back to your startup year as it’s in your print map. And then another one of my favorite expressions was, for one of my former bosses is you have to kiss a lot of frogs. And putting that into numbers I’ve always operated around that traditional sales model where you have to contact 100 people to get 10 engagements and then from that you may get four briefs and from that you might win a client.

And so we’ve done a lot of that graft in terms of working on that work. We’ve done our own PR, we’ve done things like launching the title 500, we’ve done some quite interesting reports around influence. We’re doing events and we’re doing our own… We’ve invested so heavily in our own social media and our own PR. I think it’s really, it’s never one thing it’s usually the combination of everything. We’re doing a bit of everything. As much as possible what we’re trying to do is non-contested pitchers, which hey, who wouldn’t want to?

Drew McLellan:

That’s right, everyone wants that. Right, yep.

Brendon Craigie:

But I think if you work hard enough on your… I think we’ve worked really hard on our brand positioning talent and I think that has allowed us, probably 75% of the clients we’re currently working for have been non-contested pitchers. And so I think the combination of our marketing efforts aligned to our product and what we’ve got to offer people means that we have been able to get a lot of clients without having to pitch for them in the traditional sense. So yeah, hard work for sure but with a sense that there is an element to this where it’s a numbers game.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, absolutely. And it’s you got to do a little bit every day part of the equation.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. And if you want to grow… I’ve always had that thing where if you want to grow organically without making any effort it’s going to be quite slow and so you need to make a disproportionate effort to grow quickly. And we don’t have an ambition to become… Our short-term objective first three years we want to get to 30 people, about 30 people, 3 million pounds in revenue. And so that’s quite, it’s quite fast to do that.

Drew McLellan:

Absolutely.

Brendon Craigie:

But, yeah, we’re committed to that and making an effort. And then once we get to a certain scale we’re probably going to be less focused on growing much further and we just want to create this reputation as being an agency of communications by choice.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, I like it. I know we have to wrap up. But I did want to talk a little bit about your idea around the role of insights and research inside a PR shop and how you see that moving forward.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah. Well, I think I’ll say just two things on that. Firstly, I would say that before creating Tyto we spoke to about 200 different prospective clients about what it was that they really valued in a PR communications agency. We then wrote all of that up and then we took that out on the road and we presented it to a bunch of these prospective clients and got their feedback. I guess from the very first point, our products, our offer, how we’ve position the agency is actually founded on insights and research in the first place.

But then the second part of it is that my co-founder actually comes from a research and insights background and so it’s actually very integral to everything that we do. And so I think a good illustration of that is that we are doing a lot of research on behalf of our clients to help them understand their target audience and how best to reach them and how best to engage with them.

Most of our clients are in the B2B space. It’s very common for people to do the regular or annual customer surveys of their customers to ask them specific questions. But what isn’t common is actually to pinpoint five customers that matter to them or pinpoint 10 customers to them and actually have a 45-minute conversation with them and truly understand what it is that they value about that client’s product, that service, what challenges they’re facing.

And so one of the things that we’re doing which is very different is helping our clients to understand that target audience and what they’re thinking and how best to resonate with them. I think it’s easy to do some of the online research, it’s easy to do this research, but I think to be truly effective from a commerce perspective actually you need to have that human element where you properly speak to the audiences you’re trying to engage with and understand what’s going on in their world.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. It’s interesting to me that, A, the origin of your agency comes from that and, B, obviously between you and your partner it’s something that you have a strong belief about. What will be fascinating is to see how you bake that into… Again, even that conversation we had earlier about the influencers was baked on, look, we want to have some objective data to evaluate whether or not somebody truly is an influencer and what the strength of their influence is. So clearly it’s something that’s woven into the DNA of yours.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, absolutely. Yeah, it’s totally woven into everything we’re doing. And I think now where I’ve seen other agencies fail is that when something is a bolt on and it’s not integral to your proposition, it can be a bit of an island, it can be a silo. And I think it feels very different because it’s just integral to what we do.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah, yeah. This has been a great conversation, we have covered a lot of ground in an hour.

Brendon Craigie:

Yeah, good. I’m glad. We really did.

Drew McLellan:

Thank you so much for taking the time. I know that it’s late for you so I appreciate you making the time to do this and sharing some of your stories with the audience because you have wrestled down to the ground a lot of things that many agency owners are still trying to figure out. And so it’ll be fun to watch your agency grow and watch you evolve and watch how you’re putting all this to practice, so thank you.

Brendon Craigie:

Brilliant. My pleasure.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Thank you. If folks want to get ahold of you, if they want to keep track of you, if they want to follow you on social, what’s the best place for them to find you?

Brendon Craigie:

Well, you can find me on LinkedIn, Brendon Craigie or you can get me on Twitter @BrendonCraigie. Or if you go to our website tytopr.com you’ll be able to find my email address and feel free to reach out.

Drew McLellan:

Great. We’ll include all of that in the show notes everybody so you’ll be able to track that down. Brendon, thank you very much, really grateful.

Brendon Craigie:

Thank you very much.

Drew McLellan:

All right, guys, this wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Lots for you to think about, lots for you to look at your own agency in comparison to some of the things that Brendon was talking about and see what makes sense for you and what is in the future for you and what maybe is not the right model for you, but plenty to think about, plenty for you to take action on. As you know I’m a big proponent in you not just listening to these things but you actually doing something with the information.

So share this with your team, let this soak a little bit, and then get back to me and let me know what you did. I will be back next week with another episode with another guest and hopefully some more ideas to help you grow the agency that you want to run. Thanks for listening. In the meantime if you’re trying to track me down in between episodes just head over to agencymanagementinstitute.com and you can shoot me a message there. Talk to you soon, thanks.

Believe it or not, that wraps up another episode of Build a Better Agency. Man, the time goes by quick. I love sharing this content with you and I love spending the time with you so thanks so much for listening and sticking all the way to the very end. And for those of you that did stick around to the end I’ve got a special new twist for you. So many of our podcast guests have books or other things that really expand upon the information and knowledge that they share with us during the podcast.

And so we’ve reached out to them and we’ve asked them if they would like to give away some of their books or whatever classes, whatever it may be. And we’re going to throw some AMI things in there as well, we’re going to have some AMI swag and we’re going to actually give away some workshops. All you have to do to be in all of the drawings, you only have to do this once is go to agencymanagementinstitute.com\podcastgiveaway. Again, agencymanagementinstitute.com\podcastgiveaway.

Give us your email address and your mailing address and every week you will be eligible for whatever drawing we’re doing. And we’re going to change it up every week so we’re going to have a lot of variety and we will pop an email to you if you are the lucky winner. You can also go back to that page and see who won last week and what they won so you can see what you’re in the running for. If you have any questions about that or anything agency-related you can reach me at [email protected] And I will talk to you next week, thanks.

Speaker 1:

That’s all for this episode of AMI’s Build a Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit agencymanagementinstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to mid-sized agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.