Steve Tarbard - Choosing An Agency

Episode 3 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on July 5, 2022 by Alex Holliman

Listen now to the third episode of Choosing an Agency season two

In this episode, Alex speaks to Steve Tarbard, founder of Beyond Clicks, a digital marketing agency servicing the most competitive industries in the UK, such as insurance and law.

Alex and Steve cover a range of topics that clients should consider when choosing agencies, uncovering signs that indicate an agency is a good or bad fit, and what red flags to look out for. They also discuss what makes a great brief, what to ask for when asking for pitches, what to consider when looking at awards or partner badges, as well as touching on values and contracts.

You can listen to it on or your usual podcast streaming platform.

Episode three, series two transcript

Alex Holliman: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name is Alex, founder of agency climbing trees. And I’m here to talk about how to get the right agency to grow your business. Alright, so today I’m joined by Steve Tarbard from Beyond Clicks. How you doing Steve?

Steve Tarbard: Yeah I’m good. Thank you, Alex, how are you?

Alex Holliman: Yeah, not bad at all. Not bad at all. So for people who are just meeting me for the first time, could you share a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Steve Tarbard: Sure. So um, I own a company called Beyond clicks. We’re a digital marketing agency that specialises in the insurance industry. So we help from web design and build to digital marketing to outbound technology.

Alex Holliman: Excellent. And how’s, how’s business been treating you?

Steve Tarbard: It’s been good, actually. So I think pretty much the same as the rest of the world that last year was pretty unpredictable. But we still managed to grow significantly last year. And it’s been pretty much the same time this year. So yeah, going from strength to strength.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. And then what’s your experience of working in the agency world, Steve?

Steve Tarbard: So my very first job was at an agency back in 1997. And back then it was a very different world. My role was booking media space in things like Yellow Pages and auto trader and specialist magazines. So yeah, it’s been it’s been varied. And as soon as digital came along, I knew that’s what I wanted to do, and made the jump from offline media to online.

Alex Holliman: And so you have a big range of experience working in different agencies and that kind of thing.

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, so I worked for that agency for 13 years, then I left there and set up another one with two business partners. We grew that over a seven year period, and we sold that agency back in 2017. And that’s when I launched the Beyond clicks.

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

Steve Tarbard: So it is changing rapidly. So when we first set up the clicks, are doing everything to be honest. So it was from account management to changing bids up and down, writing ads. As I said, a minute ago, we’ve grown significantly. So we’ve got loads of people now lots of different teams. Now my days mainly spent liaising with the teams, and also having as many client conversations as possible, because that’s where we really add value to really get under the skin of these insurance businesses and learn what they do more and more.

Alex Holliman: And I think that’s the main point of this podcast today to really try and give value to clients from when they’re selecting agencies to managing agencies to get the most from their relationships. And so on the on the agency side of things. What’s the shadiest thing you’ve ever heard of an agency do?

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, well, there was a few to choose from. So it’s a it’s a, over the last 15-20 years, there’s definitely been some things that we’ve seen. The one that really sticks out in my mind was we we pitched for a client about 10 years ago. And everything was indicating that we should win this client, the, we could have made an instant difference in the business by with our team with our tech. The incumbent agency actually offered the client a free month of Google advertising. So a five figure sum, if they signed up to another 12 month contract, which was unheard of really and literally highlighted the fact that obviously, the the spins, and whatever else had been, had been doctored for this client for the agency to be able to do that. But the client was in a rock and a hard place, they wanted the free month, because they saw it as added value, but they couldn’t really see past or how is this agency managing to pay for a whole month’s advertising just to sign up. So that was probably one of the one of the shady things we saw.

Alex Holliman: And then when you start looking to work with a client, what are the factors that you think make up some of the best briefs you’ve ever seen?

Steve Tarbard: So the amount of detail in the brief really indicates how invested that client is. So the more detail they can give, the better it especially things like looking at their competitors being very clear with what the unique selling point is. I think that really stands out, and also being very clear and what they want to achieve. So what does everyone says it what does success look like? But I think if you don’t get that nailed down at the start and what they’re trying to achieve from this brief, short term, midterm and long term, then you don’t really stand the chance of answering it. Well, was that from an agency’s perspective. So the more detailed the better is what we would say.

Alex Holliman: Perfect and then in terms of like receiving briefs, and then being asked to pitch and respond to the brief. What advice would you give clients about like asking for pitches and that kind of stuff?

Steve Tarbard: So I think it’s really really important for clients to know exactly what they’re looking for so many agencies, as you know that they will, they will offer a range of services. And if you’re if you’re really honing in on a specific segment of digital marketing or marketing in general, then we believe it’s important to find a specialist in that area. So as a starting point, really being clear on what you’re looking for, and then going to find people that are exceptionally good in that area, I think works well.

Alex Holliman: And then have you ever had a situation where you’ve been asked to pitch for something, and you’ve ended up failing along the process, that actually the client was never really looking to move the business, it was just part of a sort of procurement process in terms of getting three quotes and that kind of thing?

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, I think, I think we’ve all been through that, that process, really, I think you get you get, as you as you go along the journey. We can normally tell with if the clients invested in the process or not, or if they’re just going through the motions. For us, it’s, it’s really about trying to work out what they want to achieve. And if we’re the right partner, we will carry on that process. But it obviously it’s a waste of time for everyone involved if they’re not really going to change provider or not looking to switch to an agency.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. And then on your side when you get a new business inquiry, and how important is it to you to then qualify that lead?

Steve Tarbard: We look at this from two perspectives, really. So the amount of pitches that we’ve done this year, we’ve turned away more briefs, and we’ve actually pitched for, we know what we’re good at. And if we, we did it for the first couple of years, we went outside of our niche, and we went outside of our core business practice. And we found it really one, we found it really, really hard really, really time consuming. We got results, but was that the best results. We know when we stick to what we’re good at, we achieve the best results. So we qualify that lead by looking at looking at their industry looking at the type of thing they want they want to achieve. And looking at how we can answer that brief. If we don’t think we’re going to be the best fit, then there’s no point wasting our time on a client’s time on that pitch.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And sometimes there’s a situation where if you play outside of what your core strengths are, it adds an additional layer of complexity internally to the agency because you’re having to, like pivot or change or adapt systems and processes that you’ve got finely honed on what you’re really, really good at. But then on this sort of new sort of opportunity, it’s like the complexity sort of almost hinders the ability to actually deliver sometimes. 

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, 100%, if you will, when we first very first set out, we said yes to a lot of things. And now we’re used to saying no to a lot of things, because your time that you spend on the things that are not quite your skill set only has a negative effect on the other side of the business.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think then, when you’re communicating with clients, your approach on the stuff that you’re really, really good at, is then like redoubled and really finely honed, and it resonates a lot more with your target audience.

Steve Tarbard: Yeah. 100%.

Alex Holliman: So when clients are looking for agencies, if they speak to like three or four different companies, what are the signs that the agency is potentially a good fit for that client?

Steve Tarbard: So I think if they, if they know that the top line information about the client’s business, and also their competitors business from the off, you know, we need to be continually continual learning cycle for the agency, where you’re having to almost spoon feed them data about the industry that you operate in as a client. And you also really want to want to at that point, you want to meet the person, that will be at least one of your day to day contacts. So you don’t just want the best new business pitches to be rolled out and you never see them again, which absolutely, we hear time and time again. And it’s important to meet that team. So once the agency is there, it’s it’s really about them talking about the client’s ambitions rather than talking about budgets. And ultimately it’s about can you do feel as a client that one agency can deliver and two, you can trust that they can deliver through the team they’ve got. And we can that’s really, really important for for an for a client to find a good agency.

Alex Holliman: And then the other side of the coin them what’s this? What are the signs that an agency is potentially a bad fit?

Steve Tarbard: So things like lengthy contracts, high fixed retainers, when the pitch is more about how quickly do you want to go live? How quickly can we get the agreement signed? When you’ve got no no real insight into who’s going to be managing the business, you’ve just got the the a team that’s been rolled out to get the con Track sign as quickly as possible. That’s probably the biggest red flag.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, that’ll make sense. That’ll make sense. I think that meeting the team that are going to be working on the business day to day is an important indicator because you can then bind to them as people in the pitch process to make sure that then actually, when you’re working on the project you’ve got someone you have an affinity with, you’ve got some confidence in. And they know some of that backstory, it’s nothing worse going through a pitch process, and then being handed over to new people where you have to then talk about everything else you’ve just spent two months talking about.

Steve Holliman: yeah, and there’s always stuff that gets lost in translation in that in that time, in that time period, and you you’ve signed up to an agency, and you’re not actually dealing with that person anymore. So it can be a pretty pointless process.

Alex Holliman: So then, for a client, how important is an award or how important are the awards, that agency has won?

Steve Tarbard: So this was a pretty hard one for us, because we haven’t entered any awards to be honest. And I’ve always thought the time and effort it takes to enter an award is better placed in other areas of the business because they see it more vanity than, than anything else. However, we were achieving the stuff we’re achieving as an agency is pretty groundbreaking now through the through the team and the tech. So we wanted to spend some time shouting about this and and it’s coming up more and more the team want to enter certain awards too. So we are going to do it in terms of how important it’s been for us to, to this point of our journey. Not at all if I’m completely honest. But moving on and raising their profile, I think it could be could be quite a good, quite a good achievement.

Alex Holliman: And I think as part of the sales narrative a lot of agencies will have, we’re an award winning agency. And I think then it’s worth thinking about the quality of the award. So it’s a Cannes lion. Or if it’s one of these awards, you can pay 250 pound to win. Both end up with being an award winning agency. But that one, the Cannes lion is actually really prestigious and really hard to win. And so it’s probably worth more of a focus on on that. Because if you look at how many award winning agencies there are, there’s a lot. And what we’ve noticed similarly we are not an award winning agency. We’ve never won an award. But that’s because we’ve never entered one. So similarly, next year, we will enter some awards. And I think that what I hear from people is that agencies who galvanised their teams, and actually then enter awards, we will outperform agencies that don’t go through that process. So there’s something that brings together the sort of team in terms of the focus and drive and the sort of determination that they sort of demonstrate on client projects.

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, I think as well, it’s all about what that award is. So if we’re if we’re, if we was to enter an award for financial services for search, perfect that that’s ideal for us. If we was to enter, Best Small PPC agency in the UK, is that really the right thing? So it’s, it’s picking out the ones you want. And the ones you believe that the best fit what you’re you’re trying to achieve? As you just said, I think you could click on every pretty much every single PPC agency or digital agency in the country. And now website will start award winning team. They’re all in an agency dedicated team focused on results, everyone says the same thing. But then when you actually break into it, they’re doing it across multiple industries, multiple platforms. And as you just said, how how, what is the quality of that award? And is it really classed as as a bonus for that agency?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And that brings us on to then stuff like partner badges and that kind of thing. So how important are those you can get them for like Google or Facebook or Bing, how’d you how important do you think they are for a client selecting an agency?

Steve Tarbard: I think this is quite timely, really, because it’s, again, it’s we benefit from being partners of the set platforms in that we get access to research, same as all the other partners so that that the agencies that become partners of the of these platforms. The question come back to at the moment, we think it’s important. If the acceptance criteria, then partnerships mean that you have to you have to maybe change some of your practices to benefit them platforms to achieve partner statuses, at that point, we will no longer want to be a partner. So what I mean by that is that the criteria is continually changes from all the different, more different platforms, Google’s probably the most well known for this. They will change their acceptance criteria based on what they’re trying to achieve as a business. And not always does that benefit our clients set and if it means that we lose the partnership status, because we’re going against the status quo, because we know from a proven experience, it doesn’t work then that’s when we If we don’t believe they’ve got value anymore.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. So you’re referencing stuff where you have to also apply suggestions that Google algorithmically comes up with in your client centre and that kind of thing. 

Steve Tarbard: Yeah

Alex Holliman: Into part of your to be accredited, you have to have a recommendation score of x. And part of that recommend that part of that score is made up of suggestions that Google comes up with, which aren’t always aligned with what a client should be doing, or we feel.

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, and I think we’ve mustn’t take away from the fact that Google are a global company and the UK is one of the most advanced digital markets in in the world. So a lot of these auto suggestions will be relevant for most of the other countries in the world, but we’ve gone through that learning process, but we’re being we’re being put into a into a footprint that they want us to follow that the rest of the world is is still on that learning curve. So it’s, it’s most of them are good at the recommendations, some of them are not at all. So it depends on how far Google push that acceptance criteria for us as an agency.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. Absolutely. And then for a client, how important is it with regards to an agency’s values?

Steve Tarbard: So we’ve got, we’ve got a picture up on the wall that says, if it was your money, would you do it? So every single proposal that goes out, this is the mindset, we want every single person that works at the Beyond clicks To to have. If you don’t think it’s going to work, or you don’t believe that it’s a good idea for the client, it doesn’t it should not go out the door. And that’s that’s how it, that’s how it should be. I think if it’s target target driven agency, if it’s how many new clients, can we win this month? I don’t think you’re gonna get the best results for them client. So for us that it’s really, really important that you stick to them that that ethos of that agency from, from that team perspective?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I think, you know, values are, so we’ve worked out what our values are as an organisation are, they’ve sort of grown and matured, as time has sort of gone on, I put them on our website, and I lose another agency locally, and someone in their team had just copied our values for Batum, without description of what those values meant, but on the website. And so I think sometimes it’s like you say it’s like, in terms of, would you do it, if it was your money as a value for an organisation to have that will bleed through to everything that you’re doing, the client will get to feel that when you pitch them when you propose stuff to them, when you communicate with them? That is essential facet of who you are?

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, no, 100%, it’s important to say, it’s important to say no to certain things. And it’s important to say to the client, when you don’t think something’s going to work as as it is important to say, when you do think something’s gonna gonna work. 

Alex Holliman: When it comes to like contracts. How important are contracts? And should the client sign a long term contract that ties them in with an agency.

Steve Tarbard: so every agency wants stability, you don’t want to invest team time, your time into a client, if they at any point, decide that they’re going to switch strategies, bring it in house, switch agencies. Having said that, we as an agency, we the maximum contracts, we worked with three month rolling, three month rolling agreements, and we wouldn’t want a client to feel like they’re tied in. So if you’re if you if we did start to do annual agreements, and the client wanting to leave, that’d be a horrible situation, I think to be in, we want the freedom for us to be able to say, look, this isn’t working out in the same way as a client would would do it for us. That for us has worked in terms of retention rate, but a five year retention rate, something like 90-95%. And so it works for us. When the larger clients, I think, and multi platform agencies and the multi industry agencies. I don’t think clients, I think as long as clients have built a rapport with that agency. So if it’s a free month introduction, period, and then a longer term contract is signed, I think that is fair from both sides of both sides of the fence if you like so it’s important to have some form of stability, but at the same time that both you and the client need the freedom to be able to have an open and honest conversation if it’s not working.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. I can see why you’d say that. And I think it’s having confidence in the team and their performance, that confidence level should be reflected in your agreement. Yeah, you as a client thinking, you know, it’s worth signing this contract for a year, but I’m not 100% Sure, that’s probably a good sign that you shouldn’t sign that contract. But if you’re comfortable working with someone lies on a rolling 90 day basis, then, you know that it should be your you should any downside is going to be mitigated by that decision.

Steve Tarbard: Yeah. 100%. 

Alex Holliman: So, are there any red flags that a client should really look out for when they’re first speaking to an agency?

Steve Tarbard: Yeah, there’s obviously a couple. So the initially coming in with a long term contract with no proof of proof of management, proof of ability. The pitches, as we just said earlier on, the person that pitches the account, then not being involved moving forward. And yeah, just just being tied in really, with no with no basis for for that long term agreement.

Alex Holliman: Wrapping everything up, then, in terms of agencies that you really admire. Who’s in your space, do you think is absolutely smacking it out of the park at the moment.

Steve Tarbard: So this is probably one that we that I personally say that I admire, it’s a bit of a strange one really, so everyone knows hin an agency called jellyfish. The reason why I say my own is because the way in which they’ve raised their profile, I think it very, very quickly, if I’m honest, I’ve never seen that done in this industry before in in such a good way that they have. It’s not just about growth. It’s not just about number of people. It’s about how they achieved the results. And the, the way in which they put technology and the right people onto accounts. I think they’ve really nailed it, especially the last two years, I think, absolutely flying.

Alex Holliman: I hear from clients that speak to them and work with them. They’re like, really, really happy and impressed by what they’re doing. So yeah, yeah, exactly. Awesome. This has been great. So where can people find out more about you guys?

Steve Tarbard: Obviously, our website so

Alex Holliman: Awesome. All right. Thanks so much, Steve.

Steve Tarbard: Nice talking to you. Thanks, Alex.

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