Episode 5 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on August 9, 2022 by Alex Holliman

Episode five of Choosing an Agency season two available now

Episode five features the Managing Director of PR and marketing agency, Harvey & Hugo, Charlotte Nichols. Charlotte shared her story of starting her own agency at age 25 and discussed with Alex how clients should approach agencies to get the best outcomes and build fruitful working relationships. 

In this episode, Charlotte and Alex talked about the worst advice clients need to be wary of, unrealistic promises from agencies, and what to look out for when checking an agency’s reputation. Charlotte also shared her insight on budgets, contracts, awards, pay-as-you-go results, and the importance of client-agency relationships.

Episode five, 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. So today, I’m joined by Charlotte Nichols from Harvey & Hugo. Hi Charlotte. 

Charlotte Nicols: Hi, lovely to meet you. 

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

Charlotte Nicols: Certainly, so I’m Charlotte’s, as you said, I set up Harvey and Hugo, which is a PR and marketing agency in 2009, in the height of the recession, but we had a bit of a USP at that time, a pay as you go PR marketing services that were, again, flexible, contract free, and it helped us kind of really ease into the market offering something new. And our core services are public relations. So that’s everything from traditional press releases and articles to digital PR. Now, social media, we do a lot of that, again, from more of a brand building perspective, rather than sales and marketing, and content marketing, which is a broad area for us covering video, animation, graphic design. And ultimately, we aim to build build clients’ brand, build clients brands that I can get that out. And we do that through telling stories to make their brands as cheesy as it sounds lovable, and memorable, because they’re two crucial factors in you know, getting your brand out there.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And then in terms of what’s your background in terms of work in the agency world?

Charlotte Nicols: I worked for an agency for a couple of years before I set up my own business. Now, in hindsight, was that long enough? I don’t know, I think I would have I ignored the advice of everyone around me as you do when you’re 25. And, you know, I just like I was so driven, I was so passionate about setting up my own agency. And it wasn’t because I wanted to do, obviously I did want to do things better. But it wasn’t because I thought I’d do things better, but just differently, a different more flexible approach than the current kind of PR world. It was quite traditional back then, social media was something very new. And I kind of realised that that would play a big part in public relations. So I only had two years experience. And I should have had more, but I have no regrets.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. Well, that’s a very bold move. It took me until I was 35 to start my business. I’ve done it years before but what do you know.

Charlotte Nicols: I know, that’s the thing? Yeah, if I’d left it later, I’d probably said I wish I had done it sooner. And the problem was I didn’t have any connections, which you know, in PR, that was quite valuable. I had good journalist, sections, but not kind of commercial ones. At 25 You’re not really taken as seriously as someone would say, who was 35 or 10 years on. And, you know, you have that massive problem with perception and people seeing it not being able to do things because you have lack of experience. You know, there’s certain truth to that. But you know, in my mind, and I was still very capable of delivering, but it’s very hard to get beyond that perception when you’re young. And yeah, I didn’t have much money either, which, you know, always helps.

Alex Holliman: So good momentum to sort of, or what that would help you to then sort of work hard and sort of crack on?

Charlotte Nicols: Oh, absolutely. Yeah, what I lacked, I totally made it through passion and energy. And I had had no other commitments, you know, single, no mortgage, no kids, so I could just work every hour under the sun, which I did.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And so what is it that you do on a day to day basis nowadays?

Charlotte Nicols: So I kind of manage the day to day running of the business and mainly kind of checking the finances, which I hate, by the way, I just bores me, but you know, you do, you figured out that that’s kind of important, the hard way for me, you know, hiring people and some of the HR issues that we may face, business development and kind of creativity, innovation driving the agency forward. But your business development takes up quite a lot of my time. And I tend not to get involved in the day to day client stuff. I’ve managed to build a team around me who look after that. But when we’re working on strategies, I tend to get involved in that stage. And I just love the creative input in the kind of coming up with campaigns as well.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely sounds very similar to most of the thing that I set up with during the business with that I loved passionately and I now no longer do and now I do finance, admin HR and everything else. 

Charlotte Nicols: I know it’s weird, isn’t it? I mean, I have to say, I do love it. I kind of I kind of fell out of the day to day. I don’t know the joy of doing the day to day, whether it’s social media content creation, and I wanted to shift more into that business kind of environment. So I am pleased that I’ve got there, but it’s totally different the reasons I set up my business.

Alex Holliman: So to get a feel for who you are Charlotte. If you could to invite four people past or present to a meal. Who would that be?

Charlotte Nicols: Oh goodness, did they have to be marketing related or just anyone? 

Alex Holliman: It can literally be anyone. 

Charlotte Nicols: Okay, Right. And Freddie Mercury, because I just, I love his music and I just find him from documentaries that I’ve watched. I just find him so interesting. All I can think of music related people. But it’s going to show that I have terrible taste in music because next I’m thinking of like, George Michael. Again, I just loved his, like, eclectic taste in music, he almost covered every genre, and, and, again, really kind of kind hearted person who did a lot for charity. And that’s certainly a key value at Harvey and Hugo, and maybe pick a political figure. I’ll go Margaret Thatcher to be controversial. Again, I just love the fact that you know whether you liked or disliked her policies, she was a strong female leader back in the times when that was very rare. And who else trying to think someone, maybe I’ll go to a marketing related Mark Ritson from marketing week. I really appreciate his, his editorials there, especially wrote some brilliant ones in the pandemic. And I think we watched a webinar for years, and it is spoke a lot of sense. And so yeah, but they’re off the top of my head. They’re not the best.

Alex Holliman: I’m struggling to get oh, no, no, it’s fantastic. And I think I’m struggling to get over Freddie Mercury. And Margaret Thatcher being in the same room together, that would be quite the thing.

Charlotte Nicols: Absolutely. Yeah. It’d be worth it just for that.

Alex Holliman: So for Harvey and Hugo, what’s the project or piece of work that you guys are most proud of?

Charlotte Nicols: So it’s anything where the client allows us to be creative, because you’ve probably experienced similar sorts of things I think a lot of agencies do, you spend a lot of time coming up with creative ideas to cut through the noise, and there’s a lot of noise about these days. And often they’re knocked back, and usually by the senior directors, because it’s, you have to be brave, you know, to try something new and be a bit more creative. So we pitched an idea to a building society that we used to work with, and they wanted more community engagement. And so they were launching the new ISA range. Yeah. And again, it’s quite cheesy, but we launched this ISA ISA baby campaign. So it’s all around ice, you know that it was a vanilla Ice song. And we got ice cream vans, we parked ice cream vans in all their key towns. And we branded up the little parts for the ice cream, or the ice cream cones, and handed out free ice cream. And it had information about the ISA on the packaging as well. It just went down really well social media got really good feedback. And again, a lot of it was because they embrace the creativity.

Alex Holliman: But and that sounds like quite a bold move for a financial institution to make but one that report like you say, cut through the noise and actually resonate with the target audience and the locale as well.

Charlotte Nicols: Definitely make them seem more human. You know, who doesn’t like ice cream? I say that, you know, I’m not the biggest fan of ice cream, it’s a bit cold for me. But you know, a lot of people do like it and financial institutions, they sometimes struggle with that, you know, there have to be all corporate and but you know, you’ve got to speak to target audience on the level they need to.

Alex Holliman: So what is the worst piece of advice that you’ve ever heard a client be given?

Charlotte Nicols: There’s probably been quite a lot. It tends to come down to the writing of press releases. So press releases have written in quite a specific way. It’s not about it’s not your chance to show how much of a brilliant writer you are, it has to be quite formulated. The journalists are quite traditional and set in their ways they like to have it in a certain structure. And often people come to us and say, I’ve written this press release, you know, had this advice, it’s written in the exact way, and we look at it, and we’re just like, Oh, my goodness, like, we can’t send that out. Because we don’t want to put on name to something that doesn’t look good, or it’s going to upset the journalists will just not get the results for the clients. Now, telling people that their written work isn’t right, is a very hard thing to do. Because a lot of people are very precious about it. But it has to be done. We can’t just say that. That’s great. We’ll send it out for you. And we have to quite tactfully say, you know, actually, the journalists you’re targeting they prefer in this way, would you mind if we restructured it a little bit, and it gets mixed reviews.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I can see how putting your name to a piece of work that someone else has part curated or put together would be quite a tricky thing to manage.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, absolutely. It’s sometimes harder to rewrite a piece of work than it is to just write it as your own from scratch. It takes longer. And again, the client can sometimes struggle to understand that

Alex Holliman: Talking about agencies, what’s this? Have you heard of anything that other agencies have done this particularly shady or like off the beaten track that the things stuff that is maybe not in line with what you do as an agency?

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, I guess it just comes down to that honesty and transparency. You do hear tales, you know, hits a small world, as you know, amongst agencies. And yeah, it’s, we have we hear clients that haven’t, perhaps had the best of experience and haven’t delivered results. And they’ve kind of almost given the agency the chance to turn it around. But they’re like, No, we agreed this, you’re tied into a contract, we’re doing this. And I think, you know, no matter what, like in the pandemic, at the end of the day, you’ve got to give that bit of flexibility. And, you know, okay, we’ll come in, we’ll, we’ll try and review everything. Perhaps you’ve changed your objectives, you know, which we did agree this. But you know, we understand that businesses evolve, businesses change, especially at this moment in time, let’s chat through things. And let’s see how we can we can take it often it does come down to communication. And, and but yeah, it can be frustrating. But it’s kind of going back and reassessing.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And we once we were invited in a previous role of mine, to pitch for a company who were grievously unhappy with their agency, they were just being under service not looked after. And so we turned up and we delivered our presentation, everything went fantastically well. But we didn’t win the pitch. And the reason we didn’t win the pitch is the incumbent agency, turned up with a piece of granite with 10 commandments that they’d sort of done about what they were going to do to actually correct the work they were doing and the client relationship that comes up and that one gimmick, got them the account for another three months until the client was actually sick. And then as he came back to us, and then appointed us to take over the account, because those promises were not true. I could not imagine going into a meeting with a piece of granite with like, these things that we’re gonna do, carved in stone.

Charlotte Nicols: I know and then not delivering them, like, you know, you’re gonna go to that effort, you would make sure you do the job. And I don’t know about you, but I find that quite often it’s it’s not about sometimes the best agency that wins, but it’s the the agency that can persuade people that they’re going to be the best, and which I know there’s an art to but yeah.

Alex Holliman: For clients then, what are the sorts of things that they can do to improve the quality of work that they get from an agency?

Charlotte Nicols: They have to be very honest from the from the start and have a clear brief, and set out some clear expectations of what they would like to achieve. And then I think it’s, it’s our job to listen to that. And kind of obviously, ask any questions that we need to to gather any extra knowledge, and then develop those sets of overall objectives. And that you can go back to all the time, so you’ve got a reference point throughout the campaign. One thing that kind of is a bit of a bugbear of mine and the eight, the client has to make sure they’ve got time to deliver the information to the agency that they need, you know, there’s no point committing to anything, if you just that you can’t expect miracles, you can’t just give a really detailed brief right from the start and about right off you go, especially in what we do, because we need information for stories, we need to be kept in the loop. So make sure you’ve got the time to commit and to for regular meetings for regular information. And I think it’s almost the agency’s job at that stage to manage expectations. Because sometimes clients can have quite unrealistic ones. And it’s at that point that you let them know the situation. And you either the agency then decides, you know, they have unrealistic expectations, we can’t work with them. Or, you know, we manage expectations. Now, they now know what is possible. What’s realistic, because again, it goes back to what you’ve said, because you can, it’s often the agencies that when they promise everything under the sun, or everything is totally deliverable. So they get the work, but then they end up disappointing them because it’s, it’s not going to happen. 

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And culturally, then that will put the pressure on their team to deliver results that are not achievable. And then there’s having all that stress and pressure of a client relationship that is going the wrong way.

Charlotte Nicols: Totally. Yeah. And I think that’s why it’s important for delivery teams to be part of the the pitches as well. And part of that initial briefing meeting the clients, rather than just the business development team, so they can actually be accountable, and they get to have their say.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And that’s a recurring theme. So a lot of agencies that I’m talking to will say we will bring our team into the meeting, we will actually make some of the team that’ll be working on your accounts.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, and that’s important too, because you might have a brilliant rapport with the person you’re pitching to. But then when you get handed to the team, and like well, who are these guys?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And sometimes in that process, the client will have to then re explain everything. And so the whole thing from the off can be quite a tricky situation for a while.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, I often find it that first impressions you know, it’s it’s the human brain, you know, you have to get off on the right footing. And once a client’s then having to repeat themselves in the second meeting, they’re already frustrated. And you can just start seeing those impressions in Oh, is this the right agency we should be working with? So it’s really crucial, right from the start of these key things are right

Alex Holliman: So then when it comes to pitches, what advice would you give to clients, when it comes to organising a pitch and managing that whole process to get the most out of it?

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, I would say for them to really do their homework initially, and figure out, you know, their objectives, but also research lots of different agencies, and narrow it down to a shortlist maybe three, because otherwise, you know, you’re involving a lot of people, you’re going to be wasting a lot of people’s time, because it can only be one person that gets the contract, and have a clear system of how it’s going to work. And don’t ask too much of them. You know, rather, we’ve had a pitches where we’ve been expected to almost do the strategy at pitch stage and present it to them. You know, whereas there’s much better it’s a single campaign, give us some ideas for a campaign, how you would deliver it, rather than the whole plan. If you only have eyes for one agency, just go through that process with them if you need to, but don’t just get other agencies involved, just because it looks more fair. You know, again, we’ve had this where the contracts already been given, but pretty much given, but they they want to kind of make it seem like there’s more people involved, or they can justify it to people above them. So frustrating.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, and I think sometimes we know, for us to pitch for a piece of work where the starting point is evolving, a strategy will take us five days. So five man days to curate everything, put it all together, synthesise it into an overarching document. And that’s that for small businesses a significant amount of time a significant investment in a whole process. And so if you’re asking 10 companies to do that, and we’ve, you know, it needs to be done in good faith. I think that’s that’s the whole thing.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, definitely, I think sometimes they don’t realise how hard it is to and how long it takes to prepare for these things. Another thing is, I guess, be respectful. If you’re not choosing that agency, don’t steal their ideas. 

Alex Holliman: And also, if you’re not choosing an agency, I always think it’s very, it’s great to get feedback to say, you haven’t won the project. This is why this is what the other agencies did that you didn’t, and that as a small businesses is invaluable to actually get that kind of feedback.

Charlotte Nicols: Absolutely, yeah, you’ll know yourself, like so many times, you just don’t hear anything. If you if you weren’t successful, you have to kind of chase up, you know, hey, like, you know, was I successful or not? I’m guessing not. But it’d be nice to know.

Alex Holliman: And so how important is the early stage for clients gives you a budget to work for?

Charlotte Nicols: it’s really important, it’s really, really, really important, because as you’ve said, it dictates the time you spend on it. Because if say someone’s got a 50k budget, you’re going to have to think of loads more ideas, because they’ve got more budget. And so many times we hear, we don’t know, you know, just, you know, do a few different options for a few different things. And we’ll piece it together and see what’s possible. I get that. And you know, we do sometimes do that for clients. But sometimes they do know, they just, they just either want to hear all those amazing ideas, even though they can’t implement them. So you kind of think, what’s the point, but usually what they’ll say is, oh, we don’t want you inflating your prices around our budget. And it’s that’s gets us off to a bad start right from the start, because they’ve got no trust. And, you know, we’ve we’ve got prices, printing and brochures, and it’s, it’s just yeah, sometimes agencies get a bit of a bad rep for that sort of thing, you know? And, yeah, like, why would you want an agency to pitch where you think they’re going to inflate their prices? If you give them the budget? You know?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. And I think the whole budgeting thing we find tricky when clients say we haven’t got a budget. And so we then try and elicit a very early stage. But if I came back with something that was 50,000, or 25,000, or 5000, you can work out in that sort of conversation, which one makes them draw breath. And so to then work out what very roughly where should we be coming in?

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, yeah. And sometimes as well, I don’t know if you get this, but they don’t even end up picking an agency. They, they just decide, oh, actually, we’re not ready for an agency, I think, definitely make sure you’ve decided that you are ready for an agency and whether you decide to disclose a budget or not make sure you have one in your own mind, because it will be helpful.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. Absolutely. So for clients when they’re looking at agencies, what sort of stuff that can they do to start looking at an agency’s reputation?

Charlotte Nicols: So any good agency would hopefully have reviews various different sites, depending on what they do you know, whether it’s Trustpilot, or Google reviews or LinkedIn. Obviously, a lot of clients do have testimonials on their website. But you’ve got to sometimes question the credibility because they have often authored their website. And it’s the ones where, you know, you can see it’s come from a genuine business. But I’d follow that up, do a bit of research, you know, I’ve noticed that you’ve worked with this company. And sometimes don’t always use the references that the agency give you. Because I guess it’s like recruitment, you’re only going to give a good reference, you know, find some other people who’ve worked with them. And again, it’s quite a small world to ask around. And often people in the business community will have experience of or know, know of them or know about them. So definitely do your homework that way and check that they’ve worked with your industry as well, because it can be quite specific, certainly in the world of PR. And they could have an absolutely glowing relationship in the professional services industry, but not so much in construction, for example.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, absolutely. Especially in PR, where access to journalists, by journalists, and then knowledge of their marketplace and what the demands of that industry. Oh, and the trends are will be especially important.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, absolutely. And what frustrates what’s frustrating about PR industry, for agencies is often people don’t want to work with an agency that’s working with a similar company. But actually, it can really work in their favour because you know, the industry so well, you know, the opportunities. And but I don’t know if you get it and yours, but really with PR, it tends to stick.

Alex Holliman: So we so in terms of our contracts, we don’t have any exclusivity clauses in any of them. Typically, what we’ve done is we work with one that the UK is leading retailers for procurement of two way radios. And we had one of their competitors then come to us and start asking us to come up with a proposal to work with them. And so what I did is I think I just picked up the phone spoke to the managing director of our client and just said, we’ve just been approached by this company, how do you feel about it? And I can’t say, well, actually, I’d rather you didn’t work with them. Because we’ve over a period of time, got very, very close to that business and knew a lot of that internal information and stuff that’s probably been to probably quite a lot of privileged information. And so we chose to decline the opportunity. And so for us, it’s really hard, because you want to take on board projects and that kind of thing. But then sometimes it’s about trying to do the right thing by your existing client base.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, yeah, I get that. It’s always painful to know, a work though. We’ve had to do it. And I guess as well, it’s, you know, is there value worthy of exclusivity too. Because sometimes we’ve got clients on just a day a month, and you can’t just shut yourself down from an industry for them.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. I once worked at an agency that was part of the who had a client network that was part of a group. And so we had in that group, four of the UK is top six bed retailers. And then we had another company that was I think, the fifth largest UK bed reatilers, so and so the stuff that I know about selling beds online, is absolutely wonderful. But I think it’s it was always quite a worrying sort of situation, because there were different teams having to be appointed on to different accounts. And if the market then starts going away, like the 2008 recession, things got really, really tricky because people aren’t buying beds.

Charlotte NicolsYeah, exactly. The whole eggs in basket.

Alex Holliman: So for a client, what are the signs that an agency is either a good fit or a bad fit?

Charlotte Nicols: I think it always comes down to the relationships that you’ve got and the rapport you have with people, certainly in that initial meeting and moving forward. I always say this to my team that relationships are actually just as important if not more important than the actual results you’re delivering. Because we have had situations where we’ve been delivering excellent results. But the account manager and the client side they haven’t been getting on and because of that they want rid of us. And equally, we’ve had relationships where we’ve gone brilliantly, we’ve got that absolute trust, we haven’t actually been delivering because it’s maybe been really early on in the campaign, or there’s been issues for one side or another but we’ve kept it and they stuck with us and we’ve ended up delivering results. So you know, you’ve got to check that clients right for your industry and they’ve got the right knowledge and expertise to deliver. That’s, that’s really important. But you’ve got to have a good relationship.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And I always say to the team here, I’ve got a younger team who are more comfortable. I know whatsapping, texting, messaging, emailing. And I just say you got to speak to a client, pick up the phone, speak to them. Ask them how they are asking how businesses ism ask them what you know, what’s stressing you out what’s concerning about the moment what do we need to do? So you can actually hear the person’s tone of voice and where they are emotionally with the whole thing?

Charlotte Nicols: Absolutely. I say that a lot as well. And, you know, I guess, you know, WhatsApp is great for some people, they just like that quick contact, but you’ve, you’ve got to go back to picking up the phone and try and say try and check in on the phone at least once a week. And, you know, even if it’s just a 10 second call, you know, you get that feeling you can pick up so much more from from the voice, as you’re saying, emails can be so misleading. And, yeah, and they can create problems sometimes. Whereas if you just picked up the phone, but for some reason, a lot of people will not just pick up the phone these days.

Alex Holliman: If therefore I get a really tricky email where there’s a problem. So it could be something’s gone wrong, something’s not performing, we’ve made the mistake, whatever it is, rather than respond via email, I try and just pick up the phone. And then you can actually work out exactly what’s going on, and then follow up by email and do that sort of sort of thought process. But you can actually understand what is actually the issue. Sometimes it might not be the problem, it could be either someone internally is kicked off, or there’s another team member that’s really unhappy. So you can work out what you need to do to actually make put things together.

Charlotte Nicols: 100%, totally agree with that. I do always think that follow up emails important. We’ve had it, everything’s fine on the phone, but then it goes back to the email and you need kind of that confirmation of what was said and what was agreed. And but yeah, 100% Agree.

Alex Holliman: In your mind how important awards in for clients selecting an agency?

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, so I think it varies, because it depends on the type of award you’re getting. So for example, say we’d won the, you know, the the most profitable PR agency award, and you know, that would be lovely. I’m sure we’re not nowhere near close to winning that. But from a business perspective, and for perhaps my team and everything like that, you know, that’s great, the business looks strong. But for a potential client, they might be thinking, well hang on a minute, are they charging too much? Or is their customer service not there? Because they’re cutting corners to make themselves so profitable. So if I was to work with an agency, that wouldn’t really appeal to me, you know, I don’t care. That’s great. You know, yes, you’re running a profitable business. And that’s brilliant. But what I would like to see as an award is great customer service, great results that you’re delivering. So it depends, and I don’t think businesses strategically think enough about awards, they just kind of gather them all in and get all the applications out and take all the trophies, but actually, you have to strategically think about which awards your customers want to see you winning. And so I think, for key ones like that the ones that matter to you customers, it’s important, but for some of them, the customers don’t care.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And sometimes I think he’s interesting, some of the agencies that I admire the most don’t in, don’t enter the sort of specific category of like SEO agency or PPC agency, they will enter into like the best one of the best places to work or that that kind of thing. So that shows a lot about the internal culture of the business. And so that’s an indication as to how, what is gonna be like, if a business has happy staff, or they’re looking after their staff, then with the following wind, and the chances are, they’re gonna get some good work out.

Charlotte Nicols: Definitely I know a customer we used to work with always had that mantra, happy staff, happy clients.

Alex Holliman: So in terms of awards in your industry stuff, because there’s you got the PRCA and that kind of thing. 

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah. 

Alex Holliman: How important are those sorts of accreditations and that kind of thing?

Charlotte Nicols: Well, I have to admit, we’ve never entered any of them, we tend to steer away from our agency accredited ones. The reason is, I just find it, it’s a bit clicky. It’s for me, I would rather our clients judged us on like General Business Awards on our success rather than the industry. And we did for the first time get shortlisted in the prolific North’s top 50 PR agencies in the north. And, you know, that was great, that was purely on kind of turnover and the financials. But yeah, it’s, it’s something I’ve always stayed away from it just I get it, and it can look good, but I want to kind of speak in my target audiences language, you know, they might think, well, what is the PRCA? You know, whereas a business award might resonate more with them?

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And so we have we are not an award winning agency, because we’ve never entered any. What I would hope is that if we were to answer some we would win some, but like you say, it has to speak to what is important to the business, or the clients or the business.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. It’s not to say I never would and to be fair, there’s a more general northeast marketing awards that we have been shortlisted for, but our audience is generally quite specific to northeast businesses. So that resonates with them in that respect, I guess, where it would be good is for gaining our teams kind of credibility, so it may be something I look at in the future.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And what I know about so I think I’m probably historically have been an award sceptic, because there’s so many award winning agencies, especially in our industry, search marketing. And then you look at the quality of the awards that you’ve got really prestigious ones like there is there’s a Google premier partner award where they have to be in the top 3% of agencies. And then the award winners are in the top 1% of that 3%. So that’s really meaningful. Whereas there’s locally awards where you can send off £50, and you get a trophy and your award winning. But you ultimately everyone says that they’re award winning. But the base the value of that awards, I’ve always been sceptical on that. I think where I’ve got to with it is that I know that businesses whose teams coordinate themselves to enter awards are probably culturally going to be a little bit more dynamic and on it and delivering for clients than those that don’t. And so I think, yeah, what a valuable exercise to go through.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, and we do we do a lot of award entries for our clients as well. And you know, we do always say that it’s important for them. And yeah, it all just depends on the motivations and the reasons and the objectives. And I think it’s important to have a strategy going into it.

Alex Holliman: So well, how do you feel about clients in terms of so you’ve got a pay as you go thing that you’re saying about you do? What do you think about a client signing sort of longer term contracts with agencies or being told that they need to by agencies?

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, it’s really strange, because we, we do have contracts, mainly, because sometimes our clients want them, sometimes our clients want to be tied into a three year contract or a two year contract, I think, for their peace of mind as well. What I’d recommend is that there’s always a break clause, and you know, for the client’s benefit, you know, say after six months, there’s an opportunity to review it. And they are incredibly valuable for agencies, because you know, what it’s like, you know, it can be really hard juggling work coming in and budgets and team and recruitment. But, you know, sometimes I do question, you know, are they worth the value of the paper they’re written on? It’s a perfect example, as this is, in the pandemic, when our clients were just like, we can’t, we just can’t. And I was obviously gonna say, that’s fine. If I’d said, Right, no, you must honour this. I know, for a fact, as soon as the contract was up, they would have gotten and they wouldn’t come back.

Alex Holliman: And that was the decision that a lot of agency owners faced. So we had that, we could have said, well, we need to hold you to x, y, and Z. But what we, as a business made the decision to do was make it very easy for clients to do that, to help them through. And what you know, is that at some point, when good times came back, those bridges aren’t burned, and the relationship has been held. And you’ve sort of proven yourself to be looking after people above and beyond just making sure you’re either money’s in the bank sort of thing.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, and definitely, and I think as well of agents, that you should have that confidence in themselves that they’re going to deliver and do a good job and keep the client happy. I know, it’s not always that straightforward. Because clients can be difficult, sometimes they can change their mind change their objectives. But sometimes, in that case, the agency doesn’t want to continue the relationship with them either. So it does work two ways. And having a bit of that flexibility is quite important. But also because PR, it takes a long time to deliver results, you know, we’re changing perceptions and reputations at the end of the day. And that doesn’t happen overnight. Sometimes it’s good to have that client understanding like, right, this is a 12 month contract, because it’s going to take 12 months to see results. I don’t it kind of makes them realise that without kind of getting a bit flighty at three months on nothing’s happened. I can’t see results. People aren’t calling us. So yeah, I do struggle with contracts. Part of me would love to say, right, no contracts at all, mainly to get rid of the paperwork side. But it is good security. It does look professional, and a lot of our clients ask for them.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And we have noticed with our senior larger clients from companies that might have 500 plus staff, they are more we need to do this as part of their internal sort of procurement process and have that sort of locked down as part of their internal sort of processor.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah, yeah, we we’ve actually just signed a contract for a larger kind of client. And we haven’t even met their marketing team yet. It was all done for a tender process. And I was just like, Oh, you want us to sign the contract before we even meet them and discuss the objectives of the campaign? And they were just like, yeah, just sign this versus like, Well, okay. But yeah, it’s strange. It’s strange.

Alex Holliman: So what are some of the coolest things that you guys have done on the pitch?

Charlotte Nicols: And so, one pitch, I actually dressed up as Bonnie Tyler, and sang, sang a version of Total Eclipse of the Heart, and I am not a singer. But from studying this, this client, I knew that one of their core values was fun, and that’s one of our core values too. And so I knew It had to be different. And basically, they’d launch this software that was called Eclipse. And so I made up the lyrics and everything accordingly, to make it relevant. They actually videoed me and sent it around their team. I know I wasn’t prepared for that. And but I do think it helps us clinch the deal. 

Alex Holliman: What a thing! That was literally, if you’d have asked me to come up with an answer to that question, that would be the thing that I was expecting Bonnie Tyler.

Charlotte Nicols: Yeah. And you know, I knew it was either going to make us or breakers, but it seemed to go down a treat.

Alex Holliman: Excellent. So this has been great. Where can people find out more about you online?

Charlotte Nicols: So they can visit HarveyandHugo.com and it’s got all our social channels on there on Instagram and Twitter and everything. And I think by following us, you really get a good flavour of what we’re about.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Charlotte Nicols

Thank you so much, Alex.

You can listen to this one now on www.alexholliman.com or your usual streaming platform.