Alice Rose - Choosing An Agency

Episode 2 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on June 28, 2022 by Alex Holliman

The second episode of season two of Choosing an Agency now out

In the second episode, Alex speaks to Alice Rose, Managing Director of digital marketing agency, Fountain. Alice has grown with Fountain for almost ten years and helped to shape the growth of their award-winning pay-per-click department.

In this episode, they discuss how to ensure you get the most value out of your partnering agency, what to ask for and what to give during the pitch process, and what determines whether the agency is a good fit for your brand. Alice also discusses the topics of values, contracts, and partner badges.

Episode two, series two transcript

Alex Holliman: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name is Alex. And I’m here to talk about how to select the right agency to grow your business, giving you the inside line on things to look out for the next time you need external support. I’ll be interviewing industry figures from all manner of backgrounds to get hints and tips on the things to consider when choosing an agency. So today, I’m joined by Alice Rose, Managing Director of Fountain Partnership. Hi, Alice. 

Alice Rose: Hi, Alex. 

Alex Holliman: So for people who just meeting you today, for the first time, could you share a little bit more about who you are and what you do.

Alice Rose: So, I’ve been working at Fountain partnership for nine years, we’re a digital marketing agency based in Norwich. And interestingly, or not also in Canada. I joined fountain straight out of uni, did the old classic worked in a pub for a couple of years while I decided what I wanted to do, and then got introduced to fountain through a family friend. So I joined as an SEO consultant. And within six months, Fountain had started building a pay per click team. So I quickly moved over there and helped them build that from scratch. A few years later promoted to be our head of digital head of PPC, sorry. And then a few years after that our head of digital and then last summer took on the mantle as managing director.

Alex Holliman: Wow. So that’s quite a journey. So from from the ground up.

Alice Rose: Yeah. It’s mad think it’s been nine years. But it’s been an amazing journey. And so many people that joined fountain at the same time as me and still here, which has been brilliant, and we’ve all grown together. So, yeah, it’s been a whirlwind an exciting whirlwind. And I’m looking forward to the next nine years.

Alex Holliman: Excellent. And then what sort of stuff do you do on a daily basis, Alice?

Alice Rose: It’s really varied. I have a lot of meetings with various different people. So we have a leadership team, which we call our agency growth team. There’s a few of us in there, there is I’m gonna get this wrong now but I think there are four of us in there. So we meet once or twice a week to discuss how the weeks going, what’s going on in the agency, any challenges any opportunity, so have a chat with them, and then help we all prioritise our week of that. And I might do a coaching session with one of the team. So I coach, five of our employees. So we have a session once every two weeks together, one to one, where we talk about with brainstorm, we talk about what’s going on in their world. Any challenges we work through, some might have a one to one. And then the rest of my days really quite flexible, I might get drawn into a new business opportunity. Or I might speak to a client or do a podcast. So yeah, very varied, but very busy.

Alex Holliman: Excellent, it sounds, it certainly sounds it. And then in terms of our family, and what’s the project or piece of work that you’ve done that you’re most proud of?

Alice Rose: um, I think, myself, we’ve been here for so long wrack my brains about this a little bit. And so quite early on into my journey at Fountain, when I was working in our payed department, we took on a client called you move who are an estate agent. And when they came to speak to us, they had their franchise and they had four to five offices, that’s four, sorry, four, or five, five. And they were sending quite a lot of traffic to their website, but they weren’t getting good enough results. So they came to us for a paid strategy to look at how they scaled that up. And actually, we took it all the way back to basics and ended up doing a whole user experience analysis of their website. Because actually, they were sending really good volumes of traffic to the site, but the website just wasn’t performing well enough that wasn’t making most use of their, of the investment they were spending. So we we did that for them. We created only paid campaigns. And we basically wrote them a bit of a marketing playbook for their franchisees. They are really fast growing business, and we now work with 80 of their estate agent franchisees and they’ve got they’ve got a few more than that, too. So we’ve been working with them for probably five years now. And it’s really great because I’ve seen them go from, you know, four offices to plus 80 We get on like house on fire, and we have a really open and honest relationship really trustworthy. You know, they’re part of the family. So you know, we know what’s going on in their world. They know what’s going on in ours and we’re innovative together. So yeah, it’s been great to see that growth And where you can work on a project like that from relatively early stage and and really make a large impact on a client’s business. That’s fantastic. Yeah, it’s been really great. And it’s been nice for me as well to see, you know, I don’t work on it anymore. But it’s gone through various different team members. And it’s I had actually had a team meeting with them last week to catch up on where things were and how what was going well wasn’t going so well. And it was just great to see, you know, a client that I looked after so many years ago, still absolutely flourishing, the team are doing a much better job than I did. So that’s Yeah, it’s really exciting.

Alex Holliman: Oh, it’s for the record than that, were my team do a better job than I did. But that’s all growth, isn’t it? So,

Alice Rose: exactly. Hire people better than you. 

Alex Holliman: Excellent. So the main sort of focus of this podcast series that we’re doing is to try and put together a comprehensive series of podcasts around what clients can do, to choose the right agency for them. And so moving on to that as a subject, in your mind, what can be done to improve the quality of work that a client gets from an agency?

Alice Rose: I think it’s really important that people clients give the agency the right information. So go into as much detail as possible, really drill down into what you’ve tried before, and what has worked and what hasn’t worked. We really try and probe and one of your guests may or may not have talked about this already, Alex, but thinking about we tried to think about what the client’s 3am problem is, you know, not just the on the surface problems, the ones the really deep, you know, the business problems, because marketing, working with a marketing agency should be about ultimate driving driving, improvement in the overall business objectives. So it’s not just about the, you know, the short term marketing goals, it’s about the longer business objectives. So giving the agency all of that kind of information, then I think it’s a way for agencies to give the clients better results, because they can think holistically about how the marketing plan works at an overall level.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. So sometimes that big that 3am problem as you phrase, it isn’t necessarily a classical marketing problem. But there could be in what you’re saying, I guess, a marketing solution to mitigate that problem, or come up with a solution or try and rectify it?

Alice Rose: Yeah, exactly. That, I think, you know, if you’re, don’t, don’t be worried about sharing information with the agency. So you know, if you have concerns, ask the agency to sign an NDA, or whatever you need to do to feel more confident there but the more information you give them, the more information you’ll get out of them, and the better the quality of work will be.

Alex Holliman: And then for clients, what advice would you give them when they’re asking for pitches and that kind of thing Alice?

Alice Rose: Yeah, I think pitching. We talk about business development in our agency a lot, it dominates the agenda about how we can do it, how we can do it better how we can do it more efficiently. I think one of the things we try and help our prospects to understand is that if you’re asking an agency to pitch, it’s a big, it’s often a really big investment of time from the agency. So really understand that, you know, don’t, don’t quit a beauty parade, you know, if you’ve got one that you’ve got your heart set on, I would say, or an agency, get your heart set on, maybe find somebody polar opposite and see what they can bring to the table and take an open mind into those pictures. I think, also, with my previous question stands true here, give as much information away as possible. So we like to ask for access to the clients’ platforms. So if they’re running Google ads, we like to ask for access to that, access to Google Analytics, it just means that we can tailor our pitch to the client. It means there’s no nothing no skeletons in the closet, you know, everything’s out in the open. And we can really make sure that we’re proposing what we think will be the right strategy so that if we then win a new client, we get off on the right foot, we can onboard them more smoothly, and we can start hitting results quicker. So yeah, put everything on the table, I’d say,

Alex Holliman: As part of that process how important is it to for client to include budgets?

Alice Rose: I think budgets are always a really good idea. Ultimately, most businesses will have an idea of what they want to spend on marketing in the next 12 months. You know, the CFO, the finance manager, they will have I’m sure created a budget somewhere. And it’s probably kicking around whether you know it or not. In our case, we like to forecast so we like to be given a budget as a starting point. And then we can see what might be possible. But if you don’t have budgets, it’s not the end of the world. I think ask an agency what they can do, and maybe ask them to share a range of options. If you’re worried about if you’re looking for growth, but you’re worried about turning the all the levers on in month one without proof of concept, then share that with the agency and they can show a scalable approach So yeah budgets are useful, but I’d say they’re not they’re not 100% necessary.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. So when a client is checking up in an agency, what are the signs that the agency is potentially a good fit?

Alice Rose: I think, where possible, try and find out a bit about the agency’s culture. So they might have their values on their website, or they might have some videos that they’ve put out on YouTube, where you can see what the team is saying that kind of thing. So get an understanding of whether the, the culture is similar to the organisation, I think it’s always good to have good chemistry. So meet as many people as you can within the agency to get a real feel for how they operate. I think understand as well the agency structure. So agencies do things in a lot of different ways. And, you know, if you have a good idea as a client, what kind of service you might want, try and find an agency that can fulfil that brief. So whether that’s, you know, flexible working hours or coverage if you’ve got an international brand, you know, find out about how the agency operates to make sure that there’s a good fit. I think case studies are a good idea as well. So if they’re find out whether they’re in your sector, and if they have some good case studies they can share with you. And then finally, understand what the agency’s tech stack is. So what software do they use? And how do they use it? I think that our agency, for instance, we operate, we have about 15, regular pieces of software that the team used in order to do their job effectively. And that’s one benefit I think clients get from from partnering with an agency around taking it in house that they have access to all this different kinds of tech. So find out what your agency has in house and what they use and how that could be valuable to you and not

Alex Holliman: Perfect, that’s really valuable. And then, in terms of meeting people at the agency and that kind of stuff, how important is it to meet the team that we’ll be working on the client’s account or business?

Alice Rose: I think in our view, we really prioritise that we understand that the best client agency relationships we have are the ones where the team really understand each other. So we take all of our all of our team that will be working on the client into the pitch, and also can often do a meet and greet sort of before the pitch. So the team can ask any questions, the client can really understand who they’d be working on it, who would be working on their account, it’s so in my view, it’s really important. The one challenge that we have, as an agency, I’m sure, lots of agencies find is that if the pitch is six months in advance of when they’re when the project might start, then it can be quite difficult to meet the team. Because in six months time, it might not the same team might not have the same level of capacity in order to take the client on. So that’s sometimes a sticky point. But we try and keep consistency between who’s working on the pitch and who’s taking on the client, because it makes the onboarding process a lot smoother as well.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And it’s critical for or we think it’s critical for onboarding, because you unearth a lot of potential avenues to investigate or opportunities when you’re initially speaking to a client. And so if they’re embedded in the team, that team are more seamlessly going to be able to pick up on all of those sort of actions and resulting ideas. 

Alice Rose: Yeah, definitely. 

Alex Holliman: So within agency, you touched on culture, how important are values Alice?

Alice Rose: I think it really depends on whether an agency lives and breathes them. So everybody can have values, they can be plotted on the website. But if they don’t adhere to them, or if the team don’t understand what they are and what they stand for, then they are redundant, in my view. So I think speak to the agency and gauge whether or not having looked at their values, you think that the agency lives and breathes them, because ultimately your values should be your decision making criteria. They should be what the team use on a daily basis to to make important decisions. So I think if they live and breathe them, then it’s really useful.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think once we had it with a local competition, we were sort of looking around saying, How does our marketing efforts fit versus competition, one of our local competitors had copied our values from our website and copied them verbatim, with the exact language used to unpack them on their website. And so there’s obviously going to be some living those values issues within that company. But I think, how do you when you unpack what your values are, how do you make sure your team use those as a toolkit for when no one’s looking? How do you make sure that they’re being lived and embraced? 

Alice Rose: One of the things that we’ve done a couple of years ago is we redid our appraisal structure for the team. And we now ask the team to score themselves and they score themselves on a set of skills and capabilities on, it was one part of that process. And the second part is they score themselves against our values. So we’ve got five values. And we’ve created three behaviours that we think if you live and breathe that value, then you will demonstrate that behaviour. So we’ve packed that into a spreadsheet. And our team, we have an appraisal three times a year with all the team members, and they score themselves on those behaviours. And we can then use that as a conversation point in their appraisal to talk about where they’ve scored themselves high. And we can shower them with praise, or where they’ve scored themselves slightly lower, and we can discuss why that might be and how we can help. So the appraisal structures really helped us to embed that value.

Alex Holliman: So in your experience, Alice, how important is it for partner badges from companies like Google or Microsoft?

Alice Rose: I think that partner badges can be really valuable, I think it’s worth understanding how an agency has got those badges. So, for instance, we have Google Google premier partner, which is a red badge. But Google Partners start with a blue badge. And I think to be a blue badge agency, you have to do a couple of accreditations online and that’s about it. To be a premier partner, you have to have a certain percentage of your agency accredited, you have to be managing enough client’s spend. And you also have to hit certain KPIs within Google. So there’s a fair few, there’s a lot more hoops for to get that badge in order to jump through. So it’s worth understanding what they did in order to get them. Some badges can mean very positive things for the client. So our premier partner status means that we get access to Google Insights, we get invited to the latest training, we get access to beaters before other agencies. So that’s quite valuable for clients, because it gives them a bit of a leg up against their competitors, if their competitors are working with a blue badge agency, or if they haven’t got a badge status at all. Because we can just give that them that little bit of edge on the latest insight and things from these from these channels. So I think they’re quite useful but they’re not the be all and end all.

Alex Holliman: And you’ve also won so out with the Google premier partners, you’ve won awards that put you in the top 1% of that top 3%.

Alice Rose: Yeah, we won. We won three Google awards now, which is amazing, a couple of years ago, for growing businesses online. And we actually won the global award as well. So we were up against all the other winners from the other regions in the world. And yeah, Google rated us the best in the world for growing businesses. So that that was that was brilliant, and it is good validation of our point. 

Alex Holliman 

Absolutely. So that kind of combination of partner status plus awards, that is a real sort of standout thing. So you guys to be very happy with that.

Alice Rose: Yeah, takes pride of place downstairs and our meeting room.

Alex Holliman: So you’ve been through the process of pitching to a client, they’ve met the team, you’ve developed the chemistry, you’ve proposed your ideas, and they want to work with you. How important is it for a contract to be signed with an agency that ties you in long term?

Alice Rose: I think for an agency contracts are really helpful because they give us an idea of how busy we are as an agency. It helps us to plan our yearly revenues, it helps us to know when to recruit, books the team in. So contracts are really valuable, I think it’s important to make sure the contract is tied to a goal. So we, our contracts, for instance, are very clear service level agreements, so that the client and the agency understands exactly what’s being purchased from them every month. And our account directors own that contract. And they have to ensure that they are hitting the client’s goals and working towards the same thing. So that there’s transparency between what we’re doing and what the client wants, that really ensures that we’re managing the client’s expectations, and there’s no sort of ambiguity in the contract, everyone’s happy. I also think it’s important to have break clauses there, especially in the beginning. You know, sometimes you get off to the wrong foot, or sometimes you know, the fit just isn’t right. 

Alex Holliman: And we currently have two or three clients where they’re taking a new product to market, there’s no historical data. And so we proposed to them what we intuitively think to be correct what we based on experience analysis of their marketplace, we think this is the plan that will generate some results, but it might not work. And so we’ve been upfront about that. And if it doesn’t work, there’s no point in us tying that client into a 12 month agreement. So we have in there, like you say, break clauses to make it easy, and you can part in a way whereby there’s no animosity, and you’ve always had the client’s best interests at heart on that specific project.

Alice Rose: Yeah, I mean, ultimately, if you’re working with a client that doesn’t want to work with you is just going to give you headaches. The team won’t like to work on it. You know, it’s not nice for us as, as leaders asking the team to work on it, you know, if the client doesn’t want to work with the agency anymore, for whatever reason, is best on both sides, just to part company, as you say. And so write it in the sand, take some learnings from it. And yeah, move on. There’s plenty efficiency.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And that works on both sides for client and the agency as well. 

Alice Rose: Yep, definitely. 

Alex Holliman: Excellent. This has been great. Alice, where can people find out more about you online?

Alice Rose: They can visit our website, which is Or find us on LinkedIn. We’re regularly sharing updates and industry news, so well worth a follow.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. Thanks for joining me today.

Alice Rose: Thanks, Alex. Have a good day.

Alex Holliman: Hi again, thanks for listening. If you found the conversation useful, please join me again next time for Choosing an Agency.

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