Adam Graham - Gray Matters

Episode 10 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on September 12, 2022 by Alex Holliman

This episode features Adam Graham from Gray Matters – a business development consultancy for agencies. 

Adam talked about how clients should respond to speculative approaches, how to innovate the pitch process to find your perfect partner, and why you should be maintaining relationships with multiple agencies (not just your current agency!). 

Adam also shared why he believed sales, PR and marketing must work together for ultimate success, how clients can get the best work, check an agency’s reputation, and gave further tips on how to determine if an agency is a good fit. 

Episode ten, series 2 transcript

Alex Holliman: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name is Alex, founder of search agency climbing trees. And I’m here to talk about how to set the right agency to grow your business. So today, I’m joined by Adam Graham from gray matters.

Adam Graham: Hi, Alex. Alex, nice to meet you.

Alex Holliman: So for people who are meeting me for the first time, could you share a little bit about who you are? And what you do?

Adam Graham: Of course, yes. So I run a company called gray matters. And that is a business development consultancy for agencies. So we work in the new business space, the sales and marketing space, ultimately, to help grow agencies.

Alex Holliman: Awesome. And then in terms of your experience of the agency, well, when you first start working with agencies?

Adam Graham: So I started working with agencies just after my first job, which was in recruitment, so it was around about 14-15 years ago. I started working for a small new business agency, which was ultimately doing lead generation. So I was cold calling marketing directors on behalf of agencies getting told to fuck off 80 times a day. That is how I earn my stripes. And that was my first experience into what the creative world was.

Alex Holliman: And how did you find those moments? Because I wouldn’t be able to take the rejection, I’ll just crumble like a delicate little flower.

Adam Graham: Yeah, well, it was it certainly, you know, taught me a lot about what I needed to know. Now for future life, you know, you build a lot of thick skin in that role, but you just dive in. I mean, I started off as the same recruitment, which basically, you’re given a phone and a list and your cell to get on with it, right. And it’s the most primitive form of sort of business. And you learn because you have to sort of learn everything about the people you’re talking to their needs, how you pitch your messaging, how you convince people, the psychology of people the way you have to show empathy, and determination, and grit, and basically all the foundations of sales. And that is, you know, what it taught me, but I think it’s a great way to learn to be quite honest with you, I think most people in the marketing world could really value from a bit of sales experience, and just going in there at the coalface.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, because there can be a temptation for agency people to be technical specialists really noodle and spend a lot of time doing what they do technically, and then not focus on getting that message out there and talking to people.

Adam Graham: Yeah I think it’s just it’s real life, right. And I think sometimes when you are creating messaging or marketing, or comes from behind the desk, and you’re sort of quite far removed from the end user, it’s easy to get things wrong. And sometimes you you know, when we create messaging, we know some things can work really well for a website, but you’re gonna sound like a twat if you say it on a phone. And therefore you’ve got to understand where what the right message at the right time, and how people are sort of thinking and behaving in that moment that they might interact with that message.

Alex Holliman: So what sort of stuff do you do on a day to day basis, then Adam?

Adam Graham: So my role is obviously overseeing the agency. So you know, we’ve got a few employees that I manage. Ultimately, we work with different agencies. So we, you know, no days the same, we could be working on events that we’re running for them, we could be looking at lead generation campaigns and sort of how they’re performing. We could be writing new comms messaging, I could be developing a new positioning or a new strategy for an agency doing workshops, 360 interviews with clients, so it’s quite broad. And on top of that, I do run a business development community called BD matters, which I sort of founded during lockdown. So it’s a group of 400 now, business development professionals pretty much exclusively in the agency world, and just coming together, because really can be a bit of a lonely place. And sometimes we need a bit of a clear space where we can sort of air our dirty laundry.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And there’s a certain empathy that you get from talking to people that are on a similar sort of road to yourself.

Adam Graham: Exactly, yeah, I think, you know, knowing the challenges and both just, you know, in sales, but then also internally, managing upwards, you know, PR in yourself, there’s a lot about the sales role that people don’t understand or don’t want to know, you know, there can be sort of a naivety to it or a sort of, like, you know, keeping their, your arm’s length a little bit. So, yeah, it brings people together and gives them a, you know, learning community that they need.

Alex Holliman: When you think back, what is the sort of what’s the piece of work that you’re most proud of?

Adam Graham: So one thing that sort of always sticks in my mind was a pitch, which we were when I was working for vizeum who are no longer around, actually, they’re sort of top 10 media agency part of the Dentsu Aegis Network. They were pitching for Camelot, which are the people that run the National Lottery. And we were invited onto a pitch it as a bit of a wild card, basically, there were seven agencies, and we were the wild card. And it was fascinating brief because it was, yes, it was like National Lottery. So some people look at that as gambling. But a lot of it was about the good causes and the work that the National Lottery does in reinvesting around the country. And ultimately, you know, that pitch was a seven way pitch process, we won that pitch from being a complete wildcard. And sometimes being a wildcard is not such a bad thing, because I think we knew that we had to go in sort of bolder and more creative than the other agencies. And, you know, I was kind of like, you know, behind the scenes, obviously, obviously, lots of people involved in that pitch process, but we’re able to sort of win them over, you know, we’ve created I create some incredible insight videos that sort of brought, you know, consumer insights about the whole family and how they interact with a national lottery or how they could. And so there was, it was a huge amount of work that over a few months, and so, you know, 50 million pounds, I think it was worth to the agency in terms of Billings, so you know, it was a pretty outstanding win.

Alex Holliman: Phenomenal. So my first ever job was at Zenith media. And Zenith was part of the same group was Zenith on and Bates had won the creative for launching the National Lottery. And there were these massive put, like outdoor poster sites where they had one night we got invited down to the company, boss, there’s free beer. So I think the idea is we all sort of rushed along. And we had our pictures taken. We’re all like I had like a grid of everyone’s faces put together for the launch of Camelot and the National Lottery, so.

Adam Graham: There you go. It’s just it’s a great brand. I mean, there’s just so much going on. But I think it’s for the for this agency for Visium. I think there’s one of their biggest accounts they’ve won at the time and sort of really changed the game for for, you know, who they were as an agency and what they could win.

Alex Holliman: So what’s the one of the worst pieces of advice that you’ve ever heard an agency be given Adam?

Adam Graham: I don’t know if it was advice, but I certainly saw when, you know, I was at isobar, that, you know, in the UK, funnily enough, about a year after this happened sort of went down the drain of pretty depleted but it wasn’t for this reason, but it was just one of a number of things. And it was the sales team and the sort of the new business team and the PR team sat that at separate ends of the office, right? So it was it was a conscious decision to not put PR with new business, right, because which I just didn’t understand. I was like, right, surely driving PR is about driving brand awareness, which is all the idea is to drive sales, right new business. That’s why marketing and PR exist. And a lot of people and I think this still happens today, they can’t get their head around that they feel like the role of PR is to do one thing that’s to grow brand awareness. And that’s to tell stories. And of course it is but to what end. And I think one thing, you know, through launch my own consultancy, and I think what we’ve been able to sort of do is bring sales and marketing very closely aligned and see the effectiveness of them when they are sort of go hand in hand. But it’s it doesn’t happen. Often you’ll have PR people. And I’ve seen this recently, some of the biggest media agencies in the world, you’ll have PR people, if you ask that PR person who are who’s the agency prospecting for at the moment who they like to when they could not tell you, they could not tell you that like and that is, to me mind blowing. They don’t they don’t have the same objective.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And so those sales objectives have to really ladder back to the actual marketing objective. So putting out content that’s relevant to who you’re prospecting for.

Adam Graham: 100% is basic, right? You know, so basic, it’s just, but it’s just sort of getting behind, you know, you know, looping those things together, you know, putting an umbrella over it all and saying, right, PR, marketing, sales, events, content, all of this is all going to work to deliver this objective this campaign. And often it’s, you know, of course, there could be siloed projects going on within those channels, but they don’t work well together at all, most of the time. They’re very siloed.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. So the main point of this podcast is to think about how we can help clients choose the right agency for them. So how do you think clients should handle speculative approaches from agencies? Yeah,

Adam Graham: I think they need to be receptive to, you know, cold outreach, you know, and I know it’s, I would say that coming from someone who specialises in sort of lead generation, but you know, if you look at the landscape, right, it is this stats around this, it’s now more competitive than ever right to to find agencies, it’s easier to start an agency than ever before, and therefore the landscape is so broad. So, you know, we’re actually asking clients to find a needle in a haystack when they’re when they’re looking for agencies, aren’t we? And And I think, you know, clients need to have a sort of more robust process, not just for sort of, when they’re pitching or thinking like every three years, we’re going to repitch and refine this agency, but sort of more a more kind of natural, organic way of meeting and sort of working on sort of smaller projects, or testing agencies and letting people into their world a little bit to work on, you know, to challenge them, or do workshops with them and make it feel a bit more real life. And I think through that process, you know, you’ll naturally find the right kind of partners, and the people that you aligned to, you know, with the right kind of values, because that’s always where the best work comes from. But I think sometimes clients can have a bit of a brick wall up to agencies, and it’s all you know, or there’s procurement sitting in the way and things like that. So I think it’s, I think it’s opening their mind up to, you know, different agencies and how they can sort of, you know, test them out, you know, how they can sort of get to know them a little bit better without having to, you know, boil the ocean?

Alex Holliman: And how would you suggest that without having to boil the ocean? How would you suggest that clients do that in a way that is, that has integrity that isn’t sort of wasting, like the agencies that are approaching this time and that kind of stuff?

Adam Graham: Well, I think, I think a lot of the pitch processes I see these days, you know, do waste a lot of time, you know, because of of just the rigmarole they put around it, and I just don’t get it’s not very real life, you know, those sort of pitch scenarios where it’s very cold, everyone’s invited into a room, and it’s all kind of a bit awkward, there’s a lot of people involved. And, you know, I just think people need to get real a little bit with it. And I think, actually, like I say, if you were to have a sort of a workshop, you know, an hour, two hours, even chats, you know, you have it yourself, you know, when you meet someone, you just connect, and you click instantly, and like, oh, yeah, I get what you’re saying. And there’s, there’s that sort of chemistry. And I just don’t think that’s, that happens enough, you know, even if it was like speed dating, you know, where they just went, you know, spent, like, you know, a couple of hours in a room and met like 20 agencies, and there’s, there’s people out there that do this kind of stuff, you know, there’s businesses that organise these kinds of things. But I think you should be doing it all the time, you know, to challenge yourself to challenge you know, to meet new people, different learnings, you know, you could obviously have both short sessions, there could be little pitch videos that agencies could submit to people, they could sit there and watch 10 videos, you know, I’m looking at ways that you can be a bit more creative, and make it more automated, you know, so you, you then got workshops, you could say, our hand our hand, pick five, and we’re, you know, we’ll let the and and also, what I think they need to do is let the agency run the process, don’t dictate what they want, and the way they want it to be. I think they need to let agencies because I don’t think I think if the agency runs the process, I think they get to sort of demonstrate what makes them unique, and show what makes them special. And, you know, if one agency misses the plot, or doesn’t get it right, well, that’s, you know, that’s, that’s perfect. That’s, that’s what it’s there for the process is designed, it’s almost like let the agency do whatever the hell they want. Because it might just take you down an entirely different route, a different process that you you didn’t think of.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, that makes absolute sense. And then in terms of if an agency is looking to build up a kind of, like, candidate list of agencies, where are some of the places that they can find agencies that you think has real sort of value in your mind?

Adam Graham: So I mean, for brands looking for agencies? I mean, there’s, there’s obviously the directories online. I personally think, though, you know, there’s no brand that’s short of being outreach to right, you know, and I think they should take that outreach as a sign of interest and willingness and sort of, you know, they’ve got an interest in you, so therefore want to have an interest in them, rather than go cold. And like, I don’t, I don’t think, you know, and we don’t advise a lot of our clients to invest heavily in sort of SEO and Google because I think, if you’re a better sort of pot with a serious amount of I’m, you know, it doesn’t always work. But like, if you’re about to invest in a serious amount of cash, right, with a client, you’re often looking for someone you might have an existing relationship with, right? And, and that’s going to breed good work, and all these people should, you know, agencies, if they’re getting the new business, right, they should be nurturing these clients all the time. And therefore, that those people should be learning a little bit about each other as time goes, you know, to start off cold on that journey is fine, but like, to go from coal to then appointing an agency? I don’t know, to me, it’s a bit foolish, right? It’s a bit like, it’s like a candidate base, right. You know, like people, you know, people when they go out to look and recruit for candidates, they go completely cold into market, right. And I get that, but how many of them build a pipeline of potential candidates, people that I’ve talked to for the last 5-10 years that are moving careers because they know those people are going to be right for them?

Alex Holliman: No, I think you’re absolutely right. And I know that we as an agency, we’re in the process, even if we’re not recruiting I will always be talking to prospective candidates locally. Because we know at some point in the very near future, there will be without growth plans in place, there’ll be an opportunity sort of coming up.

Adam Graham: Yeah. So I think you’ve got to be, you’ve got to nurture it. That’s what I’m thinking, you got to think more long term. That’s why I’m talking about meeting agencies meeting candidates having this open mind to like, you never know when the right person or right agency is going to walk through the door. It’s not just when your procurement says, right, guys, we’re going to review it.

Alex Holliman: And it hurt me when you said about not doing SEO. Yeah, but it’s entirely right. So the leads that we get via search, whether it’s paid or organic, typically a lower quality, there’s no affinity with us as an agency. And there are better ways to actually build up that this, then going down that sort of route.

Adam Graham: Yeah, I always think those sort of entry level, when you talk about SEO, and I’m not a digital expert, but like, I think there’s a place for it and a place to generate leads, but you have to measure that there’s quite a cold lead, right. And that cold lead, you always got to top up and that cold lead might be the very start of a journey, but that it’s not, you’re not just gonna go from cold to, you know, let’s spend 300 grand with this company, and let’s build our entire digital infrastructure with them, it’s like you could do, but you’re gonna have to learn a lot about those people, you’re gonna have to have a lot of trust in what a short space of time, whereby, for me, it makes sense to sort of speak to an agency every month, right? Regardless who you’re working with, because you’re going to learn new things all the time, you’re going to sort of find out new things about those people. And if you do that, you’re gonna suddenly come along people, and then when you’re ready to make that decision, you’re gonna know you’re gonna be like that. There’s three people I want to work with. I’ve spoken to them in the last year they stood out to me was like a sore thumb. Let’s get those people into pitch. Right. And that seems to me like a more sensible process than just going into a cold directory or just Googling, you know, who can I find?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. So in your mind, what sort of things can be done to improve the quality of work that a client gets from an agency?

Adam Graham: I think the the sort of top line easiest answer for this is communication, I think. But beneath that, I guess what I’m talking about is letting an agency into a business to understand the real problems. I mean, the amount of times you see the brief, which is a brief of the brief of the brief, right, which has been refined, and it’s like, you know, we all know, as agency people, when we go into answer problem, you know, x, we’re actually answering problem Y, and Z. And if you don’t get to d, you never get to know you can’t fix x, you know, it’s just about going behind the scenes. And I think, often it’s things like that, you know, if you’re going to the directors of the board, or the level that the relationships that sit between those people, that sort of the factors that are influencing, influencing that business, or macro economic factors that, you know, competitors, might be coming in, or you know, what’s going on in the next five years, like they’ve given you this brief, but like, Oh, no one told me that they were looking to sell in like three years time when I did that brief, if I’d known that, then maybe we would have had a different approach, or we could have helped you in a different way. But I think I for some reason, businesses, brands hold cards so close to their chest, and they think they know what they want. And therefore they don’t get the best advice from the agencies that they’re going to. So I think it’s just put your guard down, you know, if you’re going to brace it work with an agency, you know, it’s got to be waltzing on with it, you’ve got to really let them into your business.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. That that has to be based on trust.

Adam Graham: Yeah, yeah. 100%. And I think and that should come through in the pitch process, or any review. And it goes back to what we talked about before, about building these relationships is that, you know, to get the best work, it’s the relationship and the trust that’s built between the agency and the and the client, right? And if that’s not there, you get average work, right? And, and the best work comes when it’s a symbiotic partnership, and they truly understand what they’re both trying to achieve. And, you know, sometimes that takes years to develop, like, don’t get me wrong, but I think it’s, it’s knowing that you’re, you’re investing in that journey, right? Rather than sort of saying, I just want this guy to do this one thing, and then I wanted to piss off, which I get, sometimes seems like some of the briefs that are flying about.

Alex Holliman: So you’ve selected the agencies, you’ve run the pitch process, you’ve let the agencies shine as a client, what’s the best way to sort of score agencies and what sort of things should they be looking out for?

Adam Graham: So I think there’s, you know, like, obviously, the work itself, like, you know, you’ve got to look at the quality of the work and the results, the how they match against the objectives. I think often, a lot of briefs, you know, don’t necessarily have objectives in them, and if they do, they’re not necessarily SMART objectives, right? They’re not things that you can properly measure. And therefore, when it gets to the end of that work, or that work gets delivered, it’s kind of like is subjective, and therefore you’re not kind of scoring against what it should have been. That comes down to the quality of the brief again, but I think the work and ensuring it’s delivering against the objectives that you want it to. I think the relationship just between the two parties gets massively sort of overlooked. And, you know, and I think having sort of, you know, all the all the players or the people that are involved in being able to have those sort of frank and direct conversation about who’s working, who’s not working on an agency team, who’s whose delivery is not delivering both ways as well, is that 360 feedback, I think that thing agencies need to be able to give that feedback as direct to their clients, like, you know, this person’s disruptive that person we don’t work well with, it’s got to, you know, and I know that’s hard to get to, but you don’t see much of it, you don’t sort of see that sort of openness of saying, right, you review us, you know, who tell us what, what we can do better? How can we make your life easier? So I think, I mean, relationship of work, I’m sure there’s, there’s more I mean, you’ve got to look at the commercials a little bit as well. And I think, how an agency and a client can, you know, build a partnership where the, what call it performance related pay? Or how can the commercial model be so that when both parties win, you know, they sort of both win, you know, it’s not sort of one or the other. And I don’t think that normally happens a lot, especially with the typical agency model, where it’s very much rate card, how many hours am I spending, X, Y, Z. You know, it’s, it’s kind of like, I think there needs to be more put at risk. This is probably more on the agency side to say, if we’re, if you believe in yourself, and you back yourself, then, you know, let’s set this objective of where we’re trying to get to. And if we achieve that, then you win big. Right? And I think more of that needs to happen.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. So then there’ll be the agency will be more invested in so that your skin in the game?

Adam Graham: Yeah, yeah, exactly. Which is what you want from a proper partnership, you know, a proper skin in the game partnership, that’s how it should be. Otherwise, an agency is just, you know, delivering the man hours that they were they were told to right, there’s no sort of real emphasis on quality.

Alex Holliman: So in your mind, how important our budgets in this whole process for clients to be transparent about budgets that are available?

Adam Graham: Getting the needs to happen. I mean, it’s still obviously one of those bugbears in the industry where there’s briefs come across and this, you know, no budget, or it’s you tell me, and I again, I think that links back to what I said before about the openness and the honesty about the brief, and the business and sort of where they’re at. But you do you need guidelines, I mean, I have sort of worked with agencies to sort of try and set parameters, you know, even if it’s sort of benchmarks of, you know, we’re talking, you know, 10 to 20k, we’re talking a few grand, and we’re talking 50, like, just try and get me in the right ballpark, so that we kind of have an understanding. Otherwise, I think it’s, it’s impossible, like, you know, I’ve worked with clients before, where they’ve sort of haven’t given me a clear budget, and I’m like, Well, you know, if you, if you give a budget of like, 10 times someone else’s budget, I would invest that budget in completely different ways. You know, we’d look at sponsorship, or we’d look at, you know, events, and we can really, you know, go to town with certain things, but you can only work with within the parameters you’re given. So I think it’s a bit of a no brainer, but it’s still agencies don’t like to give away our clients or I don’t like to give away their budgets.

Alex Holliman: And is that because if the client has 20 grand a month, they’ll get a proposal nice, nicely wrapped up for 19,999 Bounce

Adam Graham: They might do but then I would expect a client to be, you know, savvy enough to understand if that’s a good investment, and whether that’s just someone bumping up their rates? And or at least be able to demonstrate, well, if I did, if I spent half of that, what would I get out of it? You know what I mean? So being able to show like, the difference between a budget investment rather than you’ll get the same thing, you know, just mark it up differently.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. And that makes absolute sense. So on the client side, what sort of things can they do to check up on the agency’s reputation?

Adam Graham: There are things out there there’s, you know, I physically AR AR is sort of gone now the drum recommends, I think is now sort of like still a place people go to, you know, where they can score agencies and you can get testimonials and things like that. There are there are some other strong networks that were members of the pimento network. And I think, you know, through word of mouth and talking to people, you can get a feel for the quality of different agencies that exist, but it still is a grey area, right? There is no universal truth to this. I mean, I’ve seen that there was was that there was a business website recently. You probably know it, but I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s it was kind of like a sort of recommender score system for all Businesses that that that I thought was quite, quite interesting. But look, not all businesses are going to be on it and overall scores, you know the same. You’ve got to take a gut gut feel with these things, and everyone’s gonna get the same experience, but you do what you do with employees, you know, I think you get your references, you do your due diligence. You know, there’s so much out there now you can look on LinkedIn, you can you can look on websites, you can ask for case studies, you can ask to speak to clients, you know, just just get a feel for that agency and the truth behind, you know, what they’re saying, basically, in order to, to ensure they are what they are.

Alex Holliman: There’s a couple of things that as a search agency, what we think clients can do, it’s sometimes they can Google the agency name plus review. And so then they can see what that turns up. And then there are websites like Glassdoor, Glassdoor, you can take it with a pinch of salt sometimes, because sometimes you’ll get agitated ex employees that are ganging up on the poor agency ownder. But sometimes you can get an agency owner and they’re getting all of their current employees leaving pretty positive reviews just to misco poor ones. But culturally, you can get a feel for what it’s like internally in the agency from reading that kind of thing.

Adam Graham: Yeah, yeah, I know, I’ve had my own experience of that actually, with them. I won’t mention them. But I worked with a branding agency a few years back. And, you know, they had a very strong sort of ego centric board, shall, shall I say, and they’re very good at what they do. But they have some, you know, mannerisms, and I’m checking glass door when I was doing the positioning work, that was pretty damning what was coming back. And actually, I’ve seen recently because I think I still get notification. So it’s still happening, there’s still to this day, getting similar feedback. And it was just an interesting one, when I worked with them to sort of, you know, what it’s like, if you’re trying to work with a client, or any kind of positioning work and get under the skin of them and their business and what makes them tick, it can be really tricky when the problem is this is, you know, the owners are great, but they’re also the problem like standing in their own way. If you if you know what I mean.

Alex Holliman: Then introduce a tear of management to protect the staff.

Adam Graham: Yeah, exactly. Or just realise how they’re being or how they need to change. I mean, you know, there’s lots of different, you know, personalities out there, in terms of how people manage and lead agencies and different businesses.

Alex Holliman: So moving on from that, then what are the signs that they this is a good or a bad fit for clients,

Adam Graham: You know, that your website is still your shop window? Right. And I think that’s the first point of call to try and convey your values to try and get get across, you know, not just rationally, you know, can you solve a problem? Have you delivered similar work, but, and I’m not just talking to values as well, in terms of like, are we honest, are they transparent, and all those kind of like, you know, bullshit buzzword bingo, that like everybody Chuck’s up on their website, it’s just trying to get a feel for the way they talk and the way they come across. And this is where I think agencies do a really bad job actually, of being quite transparent. And speaking with a very authentic tone of voice, you know, and I think if they did that, more than I think it would help buyers and brands find the right agency for them. And sometimes you just want to be a bit more polarising and a bit more, you know, bullish with with what you want to say. But I think it’s a real indicator, when they do do that you think like, that’s, you know, that’s going to be a good fit for me, because they’re, they’re talking my language, they’re referencing people I value, you know, that that kind of thing, I think he’s always is always strong. I think, you know, you need to get a feel for like, what it’s going to be like to sort of work together, you know, and you need to understand if you’re going to be a sort of a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond, I think that can make a big difference to the levels of service you’re getting, and probably doing your due diligence about asking questions like, well, who’s going to work on my account? You know, because you get that classic, 18 in the pitch room? And it’s like, Oh, hold on, Alex, am I getting you? Or am I getting this one get that one. And I think you need to really know who you’re going to work with. Because that again, it goes back to that relationship, you’ve got that strong relationship, then you’re going to create great work together. And you’ve got to be on the same page.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think that we always try as an agency to bring along the team that’s actually going to work on the account day to day, so that there is that connection from the off. And you can actually see how people are working and answering questions and that kind of thing during the process.

Adam Graham: Yeah, exactly. And I mean, the vice versa for that sort of the bad fit. I think, you know, you can tell from agencies responsiveness. I think it’s always good to test each other in these in these scenarios, right. I think I think agencies should test brands and clients a little bit and vice versa. And by that I mean like asking a client to sort of go slightly out of their way to do something that maybe isn’t part of the pitch process, but just to see the sort of person you’re going to get. So it could be something completely unrelated, like, you know, could you recommend something, oh, I’m taking my dog swimming. And I know we live in the same area. So if you’ve got anywhere that’s such a decent taker, and just seeing what they do, or, you know, or actually, we’ve got some consumer, you mentioned some consumer insight that another company did a couple of years ago, do you mind digging that out and actually sending that over to us? And just sort of seeing whether they’re willing to treat you like a partner? And not like a supplier? And think, no, I’m not doing that? Why would I do that, like, you know, and I think it’s, can be little things that you can kind of put in in a way, and you can maybe design your own version of that, you know, just to sort of get a feel for like, oh, well, if they’re willing to do that, or have a bit of fun, or, you know, go the extra mile, then maybe this is the right sort of partnership for me.

Alex Holliman: And that chemistry, there is always is important to know that if you’re going to be working very, very closely with the client, it’s almost like if you as an employee of your choosing a company to work for, to get a good feeling from a prospective client, it’s almost choosing your colleagues by dint of extension, if that makes sense.

Adam Graham: Yeah, yeah, I just think it’s because it’s, it’s really, it just catches people off guard a little bit. And if you ask them to go above and beyond something they wouldn’t do in their every day, then they kind of go, Oh, should I do that? Will I do that for them, like even last week, maybe to shift the meeting, like, you know, and suddenly, if you get an ego egotistical client whose diary is clearly more important than yours, and it’s gonna get their backup, you kind of go, I don’t think this is going to work. Because if it’s moving a meeting a couple of hours is going to be an issue, not the sort of person I want to work with, you know, like, it can be little, little things that you kind of that niggle away that I think people are drawn to, but we don’t necessarily call out. So we’re aware. We’re like, oh, that’s annoyed him, or that’s annoyed her and but we’re not going to point that out.

Alex Holliman: So for clients, how important should be should awards? So the awards agencies won.

Adam Graham: I think, you know, is a good indicator, I think you got to take awards with a pinch of salt, right. And I think we all know, awards can be won through very clever award entries and purchasing of award entries and tables and sponsorship and things like that. Right. So I think, you know, the award system isn’t perfect, put it that way, right? You can influence judges, you can influence, you know, things like that, that are going on. But especially if there’s consistency of awards, you know, if one piece of work, you know, awords that have asked, and they won, you know, for Dracula for the BBC, they won awards, you know, all over the place, right, you know, it starts to come. That’s clearly that’s a good piece of work that is being noticed across the industry. So I do think it can be a very strong indicator of standing out, I don’t think it’s the be all and end all. But I think as far as a client, I’d be drawn to an award entry that was, you know, that was substantial. But I think it also can possibly, if you have too many awards, there’s probably that sort of curve, you know, it just sort of like, it means less over time, you know, you have agencies, websites, that it’s like, here’s my 600 awards, and you kind of go, I don’t believe that. You know, it’s just bullshit, or are they just paying for, like every award out there? Because, I mean, there are so many award entries out there. So you’ve got to think strategically about the award you’re entering. And you know, the calibre of that award and who you’re going up against. But yeah, be it’s quality over quantity. I think that awards.

Alex Holliman: Awesome. And that’s been really helpful. And then, to wrap things up, what is the coolest thing that you’ve done, or, you know, that’s been done on a pitch?

Adam Graham: If I remember the story correctly, but the coolest thing I see is when an airline was pitching, and they arrived in the lobby, to meet an agency. And they called up and they told the agency, you know, they’ve arrived, right? And so you know, five minutes goes by, you know, no one shows up. 10 minutes goes by, still no one’s come to clip the brand, say 15 minutes goes by, they’re starting to get a bit antsy, 20 minutes, right. They’re like, we’re leaving this as a joke. And they came down to the lobby finally, and they said, just so you know, this is what your customer service is, like. This is how your customers feel every single day because of x y Z. And they just wanted to prove a point, you know, to show them make it so sort of like what it meant to treat customers that understand the frustrations that they’re going through. And they just found a very sort of creative, poignant way of telling them

Alex Holliman: Very brave manoeuvre.

Adam Graham: A very brave manoeuvre, but, you know, when you’ve worked on as many pitches as I have, you’ve, you know, being 100% you You know, barely gets you second place these days, you know, you really, really have to stand out. And if you want to win, you know, I’ve watched some of the biggest agencies of the world. And if you want to win those standout accounts, you’ve you’ve got to do something that no one else is prepared to do. You’ve got to really shock people and wow them, you know, you’ve got to really change their mind shift. And it’s not enough to just answer a brief, you’ve got to have an opinion, you’ve got to completely see through that brief see through the people and see exactly what that company needs to do to put itself on the map. And when you do that, they don’t give a shit about the brief anymore. You’ve seen the answer, you’ve almost moved, you’ve moved the goalposts entirely. So no other agency can come near it. And I think when you get that, and a client goes, fuck me, you understand us better than any agency we’ve seen. And that’s a win pitches.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. You’re entirely right. So this has been great. So where can people find out more about you online Adam?

Adam Graham: So our website is gray-matters, and it’s g r a y hyphen And I’m on LinkedIn, Adam Graham, you can find me I sort of posting fair amount on LinkedIn and articles and things. So yeah, that’s the that’s the main places. Or come to Alex and I’m sure it gives you my details.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. Thanks so much for joining me today.

Adam Graham: Thanks, Alex. Great to be here.

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