Choosing an Agency, Episode 6 is out now.
Episode 6 of the second season of Choosing an Agency features Kat Arney. Kat is the founder and Creative Director of First Create The Media – a communications strategy and content agency for the life sciences.
Based on her experience, Kat spoke on how clients should work with their agency for the best results. She covered how you can help your agency achieve the best results, determining if an agency is a good or bad fit, as well as the importance of contracts and reviewing the work with your agency to determine new goals. She also shared her thoughts on agency awards, determining your agency’s reputation and values.
Episode six, 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. Today, I’m joined by Kat Arney from First Create The Media. Hi, Kat.
Kat Arney: Hello, thank you for having me.
Alex Holliman: 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.
Kat Arney: So I am the founder and creative director of first create the media and we are a communications strategy and content agency. And we focus specifically on the life sciences. So we work with companies, organisations, charities, ranging from you know, really small startups to massive multinational pharmaceutical companies, helping them tell the stories about their science, their ideas, their research, what it means for people and help them, get them out into the world.
Alex Holliman: And you have you have quite a pedigree in that sort of space, don’t you?
Kat Arney: Yeah, so I’ve been involved in science communication, I think, several decades now. older than I look. So my background is I trained as a scientist. So I did in in my degree and my PhD in life sciences kind of stuff, genetics, the kinds of things, I’m really just fascinated by how life works, and then realise that life in the lab wasn’t really working out for me, I’ve got quite a short attention span, and I’m quite clumsy. So being a research scientist didn’t, didn’t really didn’t really check out, and then realised that what I really loved was writing and telling stories. And I come from a family where some of us are scientists. But there’s a lot of like, you know, writers and readers and storytellers, and went to work at Cancer Research UK and science communication team, and I was there for 12 years. And it was just the most incredible training in how do you very quickly understand very complex scientific information. Now the charity funds, hundreds and hundreds of researchers, they spend millions of pounds on research every year, across everything from understanding how yeast cells divide, through to running massive clinical trials, and huge long, large scale studies to understand what causes cancer and all these kinds of things. And so I had to find out about all of it, and communicate it really clearly to the public, to the people who pay for the research. And I got to work across things like the marketing teams, I was in the communications team worked with the press team. And then a social media started to come along got more involved in that. And it was an incredible grounding in how do you understand and assimilate complex information, and then communicate it clearly in a way that works for your audience and achieves your aim as well. And then, after 12 years, I brought my first book out. So I wrote a book about how our genes work called herding Hemingway’s cats. And that really springboarded my career into being a freelance. So then I was a freelance writer, broadcaster, public speaker, can sing can dance a bit, and did that for a few years, and then realised that I was getting more and more requests for work from bigger and bigger organisations. And I was like, oh, no, I need I need help. Because I can’t say no to anything. So and then I started getting people to help me and I’m like, Oh, I’m, I’m running an agency, I guess. So we formally incorporated in 2018. So we’re now just over three years old. And we’re now a team of five. Mostly part time, I’m full time and we’ve got four part a sort of patchwork of, for part time, people. And yeah, I’ve been going from strength to strength ever since.
Alex Holliman: How do you find running an agency?
Kat Arney: It’s, it’s better now than it was at the beginning. Because I never intended to do this. I didn’t understand anything about business about agency. It took me a long time to realise that that’s what we were doing and that there were things that I could learn about and do in better ways. I listened to a lot of business podcasts for the first couple of years. Oh, my God, what am I doing? I’ve been really lucky to benefit from my partner, Martin. He’s also a strategic partner in the business. He works with startups. He’s got huge, incredible strategic business knowledge. So I think without him, I just would have been just flailing around. And then also, one of the very first people I hired was an old friend from Cancer Research UK, Dr. Sarah Hazel. And so we work together in the science comms team at CR UK, and she’s the single most competent person I’ve ever met. And she actually jacked in her job practically the week I founded the company. And I was struggling with things you know, like the spreadsheets that accounts that just getting organised and on top of all the admin stuff, because I’m a creative. I’m not very good at that stuff. And I said, Well, you know, I can pay you for a couple of hours a week, just helped me with this stuff and helped me market at the time we were doing training courses that she previously worked with me on us. I helped me market these training courses. And yeah, now she’s our Chief Operations Officer, she works three and a half days a week. She’s now a shareholder in the company, and just absolutely fundamental part of the, like, the strategic triumvirate that we are. So I’m the creative, you know, going all over the place, the creative delivery engine, she’s the organisational operations, making sure we’ve got the systems, the processes that everything works, and we can deliver. And then Martin’s like the strategic brain that’s looking ahead and helping us to plan for where are we now where are we going?
Alex Holliman: Perfect. So in terms of to get a bit of a feel for who you are? If this is one of my favourite questions, if you could invite four people past or present to a meal, who would that be?
Kat Arney: Oh, my goodness, that’s really hard.
Alex Holliman: So one of my one of mine was Hemingway.
Kat Arney: I think I just get really annoyed with Hemingway because he is at heart, a misogynist, and a drunk, and I just don’t, I’m the sort of person who’s just going to pick up that and I know that by the end of the evening, we’d be having a stand up route, or I’d be calling them sexist pig and throwing them out. So I think for me, so really incredible people that I would love to have dinner with. But Barbara McClintock is one of my all time great scientists. So she was a woman who discovered that bits of DNA can jump around inside our genomes. And she discovered this in plants. It took her years and years and years and years to be accepted. For this. She finally won a Nobel Prize, I think when she was like 83, after decades of not being able to get funding not being recognised, all this kind of stuff. So that was annoying. Someone else who I would love to have met and had dinner with is another geneticists called JBS Haldane, who was incredible polymath interested in all kinds of things. I did a podcast about his life. And he, you know, was experimenting on himself. He was an incredible science communicator. And he really understood that, like science is political science is about communication and the public. And you have to bring them in and explain things to them. So that would be two of them. I’d really like to meet Paul McCartney, just a big, big Paul McCartney fan. So I just put them on the list just because. And this is probably not a very cool thing to say. But I actually really admire Hillary Clinton, which again, it’s not very cool nowadays. But I just think she’s done phenomenal things to to be where she is now.
Alex Holliman: Absolutely. I’m wondering how Paul McCartney what Paul McCartney’s knowledge of genetics is
Kat Arney: No, you know, I think that’s the mic of a bit of politics, got bit of music, got a bit of like science bit public communication, JBS Haldane was quite by the end of his life, he got really into he went to live in India, and got very into sort of spirituality and connecting with the world. So you know, I reckon him and Paul McCartney could talk a bit about their, their sort of Indian spirituality days as well.
Alex Holliman: Absolutely. Absolutely. Who knew? So, for the agency, then what piece of work is it that you’re most proud of?
Kat Arney: So the thing that I’m most proud of, is actually the work that we’ve done to support a company called Zoe who do the Zoe COVID symptom study. And you may have this on your mobile phone. It’s been like this, this huge symptom study, there’s we’ve got more than a million users across the UK. And it’s the little app on your phone where you can say, you know, how do you feel today, and you know, I feel well, or I’m not feeling very well, and it goes through logging the symptoms, and all that data, is enabling the data science team, they work with King’s College London to understand the symptoms of COVID. The study was one of the first to identify that loss of smell was a really important symptom, and COVID. So they’ve mapped out all the symptoms, they’ve been able to track hotspots of the disease as it’s gone around the country. And it was really important before testing was available, because they could actually map just based on symptoms and where people were reporting symptoms, were the clusters of COVID were and be able to feed that information to the government and that kind of thing. So that’s been incredible. But the story of that starts, that I started working with Zoe in 2019. And they were a nutrition startup at this point, they were doing a big study of nutrition and health was kind of thing and developing a personalised product, where you would do all these kinds of tests at home and it would give you a really personalised plan to that works with your metabolism. And so we worked with them for a while and help them launch and writing content for them all this kind of thing. And in February, or January 2020. We just signed a contract with them for six months and I was like okay, we’re gonna be writing about blood glucose for six months, in the middle of March, we get a call. And from the woman I was working with on the branding and marketing side, and she said, yeah, the devs, they’ve built this app, this COVID app, and we need to launch it. And, and we launched it within a week, they built it and launched it, within a week, it had a million users. And suddenly, I’m helping to support the comms on the biggest COVID symptom study in the world. So me and my team suddenly pivoting to writing about COVID, all the time trying to understand what’s going on all the data that’s coming in. And at the same time, were all living under lockdown, my lead writers got two small children and quietly losing their mind. You know, we actually paid her to have some just me time we like you can have two hours a week where we don’t want you to work. But we want you to either let go and sit in the car and read a book, just something to keep you sane. And so yeah, we we’ve been supporting them through that helping to steer their messaging, writing lots and lots and lots of content, it’s been read millions of times, which is I think, is phenomenal. I added up the dwell time is like people have spent 10 years or something reading our content. And we’ve won, they’ve won awards for it, we co won two drum awards with them last year for digital media. And it’s just been, it’s been an incredible journey, it’s been very intense, but to be able to pivot to support them to provide really reliable public communication about such an important health issue. And through a time where you know, we all want to be doing something has been incredible.
Alex Holliman: Wow. And that sounds like a tremendous product. And sometimes it’s that sort of creative ingenuity that people have when something significant, like COVID comes up, that they then just pivot or change, or that’s their business to then try and sort of move off in a better direction.
Kat Arney: Yeah, and it’s interesting now, as well as COVID is, hopefully touch wood starting starting to recede, is thinking about how is Zoe going to change what they do, because they’ve built this incredible cohort of people who want to help want to help with research. And yet, and the nutrition side of the businesses is still ongoing. And they’re launching that in the UK soon. But on the COVID app side, they’ve now got over 600,000, people who want to help with other types of health research. So now it’s rolling out using the same app and the same kind of interface to research things like cancer and dementia and mental health and all these things where if we could get information from people just about their daily health, and as we’re going through life, how are you feeling today? And start to link that to help? This is this isn’t epidemiologists dream scientists have been waiting for years for this kind of technology, and this kind of research platform. So again, it’s it’s a really exciting communication challenge of how do we talk about that? How do we help people to understand what we want to do that their information is secure? Who’s going to be seeing it? What are we going to be using it for? You know, this is this is all really, really challenging stuff to communicate and get right. And it’s, it’s a very interesting challenge for an agency for science communication agency, to think about, how do we talk about this?
Alex Holliman: So what we do as an agency is fairly technical. And specifics, we do SEO PPC. But I imagine that the briefs that you get must be fairly complex in terms of the language and what their overall aims are, in your mind, what can be done to improve the quality of work that a client gets from an agency?
Kat Arney: Just be really clear on what you think you want. And if you’re not really clear on what you want, be prepared to sit down with the agency and drill into it. So certainly, what we’ve learned, and we’ve learned it the hard way, by kind of taking on projects are going like, oh, yeah, yeah, we can help you because we just want to help, right? Just want to help. Like, yeah, we can help you we can help. And then we sit down again, like, what do they actually want? And yeah, oh, no, you, they don’t really know who they’re trying to talk to you. They don’t know why they don’t know, what they’re actually trying to tell them or the audiences they’re trying to reach or what they even want them to do. So some of that was like, Ah, I wish we’d started, started with them, you know, three months before to actually properly map this out, so that we knew what we were delivering, and definitely clients that clients that come with a really clear idea. So we you know, we’re currently in a pitch process. Now for a client that’s really, really clear on what they want. They know exactly what they want. They they really clear on their specifications. It’s like great, if we can deliver it, you’ve got a good chance of winning it, and we’ll be happy to deliver it. We’ve been involved in other clients where it’s like, oh, yeah, we’ve got this whole list of things that we want you to do, you know, do this and that and this and that. And then when we get to, it’s like you’ve actually got no underlying messaging, you’ve not done any kind of audience analysis, you might think you have. But actually, when it comes down to the the five questions of who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to tell them? What are you? What do you want to do? What do you want them to do about it? And how are we going to reach them? You’ve actually haven’t thought about that. And you can’t ask someone to communicate, unless you’re prepared to think about that. So making sure that you’re building in that time. And we’ve pushed back on clients who come to us and say, Oh, we want this like, well, we’re not going to work with you until we can actually really drill into the why. And is this thing you think, actually the right thing? And have you thought about all these, these elements to make sure that the communications you’re doing are going to have purpose and serve, serve your purpose and add value to what you’re trying to do?
Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. And in terms of the best briefs that you’ve seen, what are the, like critical factors like budget that you feel clients should include in them?
Kat Arney: Um, so I know a lot of our work actually comes from more sort of negotiations referral recommendation, and then really negotiating with clients, they come to us and go, like, we think we need help. What can you do? So then it’s drilling into what do they actually want? And trying to answer those kinds of questions. And the budget one always does come up, because you’re like, you know, what’s, have you got a budget in mind? And you’ll know this, they’re like, oh, no, not really like, Well, you do? Because is it? Is it 5000 pounds? Or 50,000? pounds? Is it 500,000 pounds? But yeah, they’ve got, they’ve got an order of magnitude in mind.
Alex Holliman: Absolutely.
Kat Arney: I think what we have struggled with, sometimes is, I mean, we work in doing content. And actually, some potential clients not recognising the value of good science content, and how much time it takes and how much good valuable science content should cost. That’s not just you know, clickbait, SEO, stuffed keyword stuffed nonsense that you put on your website, and might get you some clicks, but won’t actually add any value to what you’re trying to do. And the kinds of clients that we want to work with are the ones who are, they’re doing really good science, they’re doing science, that is cutting edge is probably a bit complicated, that needs explaining in detail, that really needs to like, make it open and understandable and engaging. And that stuff takes time. And it takes skill. And it’s not just something that you know, you can pay 50 quid for 800 words. That’s not how it works.
Alex Holliman: And we certainly have that in on the SEO side of the business where you can have freelancers from any country sort of overseas, charging pence in the pound versus what we would do, but it’s about the quality of what we’re actually trying to support rather than just something that’s spammy and reductive and doesn’t actually add value to the client’s brand.
Kat Arney: Yeah, exactly. I mean, we’ve we’ve always, since the very beginning been really led by our values, which are quality, understanding, integrity, and respect. And the quality is like the quality of the work that we do, and we deliver, and also unit kind of the quality of the, the science that we would want to work on and the kinds of clients that we want to work with. And the understanding is about us understanding really intimately what the science is that they’re doing, we have to understand it, to be able to talk about it. And also that they have to understand the role that we can play and the value that we can bring. And the importance of communication that comms isn’t just like, just write some stuff. It’s like, no, we need to understand why and who it’s for, what you want them to do. And then, you know, integrity is that we aren’t we’re not going to work with organisations that are just doing crap science for lack of a better word. You know, there’s a lot of pseudoscience out there, there’s a lot of people who want to seem sciency and actually aren’t. And, you know, I think we say we you know, we’re a no nonsense agency, we’re not buying it and we’re not selling it either. And then respect as well as is really important that if clients can’t actually respect what we do and and our processes and, and what we need to do a good job, you know, then we don’t really want to work with them.
Alex Holliman: And so values was something I was going to come on to but it seems quite an opportune moment to talk about now. Do you think the values are important when trying to work out whether the agency client relationship is going to work?
Kat Arney: 100% So we sat down, really near the beginning of after founding and thought about our values. And I have to say, I was a bit sceptical, actually. So this was Martin made us do it. And I was like this just seems a bit like corporate nonsense I you know, values are three words that you have on a big poster in the foyer and it just seems like crap to me. He was like, No, this will be really important. And we sat down and worked out, you know, these four things quality, understanding, integrity and respect. And what they meant to us, were really, really fundamentally important to how we approached the world, and, and our work and the relationships that we wanted to have. And it has been phenomenal because they have been our guiding compass. And we’ve had situations where, for example, we’ve been working with a client. And someone, we’ve like a researcher, we’ve had to interview for a piece of client work was incredibly rude to our writer, like incredibly rude. And she’s a tough cookie, like, you know, this, this woman lift weights in her spare time, like, she’s, she’s not a gentle flower. And, and we were like, This is not on, we went straight to the client, it ended up being escalated to the CEO of the organisation who was like, okay, yeah, that is not on, you’re doing a great job. You don’t have to work with this guy. You know, it’s all it’s all okay. And, you know, things like, guiding our choice of the projects that, you know, if people come to us, and you’re like, Okay, it’s this. It’s someone Hawking supplements. And we’re not, I’m really not convinced that the evidence base is solid. And I’m not prepared to write content on that we’ve been approached by tobacco companies, I’m not prepared to work with them. And also, now we’ve done a bit more work fleshing out our mission as well. So you know, we will work with the best life sciences organisations to make an impact on global health and wellbeing. And that sounds very highfalutin for a tiny agency, but it’s what guides us like, is this project, going to help improve the health and well being of people somewhere, ideally, globally, but wherever is it are we actually going to make a difference and making a net benefit to human health and human wellbeing?
Alex Holliman: So we’re the clients drawing up a list of agencies to speak to what sort of things can the client do to start looking at the agency’s reputation?
Kat Arney: Um, and that’s a bit of a hard one, because I haven’t really worked on client side. So I’m not sure what they’re looking at. Definitely looking at examples of work that they’ve done, we gather a lot of testimonials. And we’ve got examples of the work that we’ve produced because of comms agency. So we can go, we did all these blog posts, we did all these things. What I think is a bit more challenging is trying to get the information out of our clients about the impact it made. Because I think with like digital marketing, you’ve got a lot of analytics and all this kind of stuff. And with content, yes, you can get clicks, and you can get like dwell times and things. But really demonstrating that something has has made an impact and added value. That can be quite hard and quite hard to quantify. So I think sometimes in terms of if you’re looking for those kinds of communication, strategy and insights, yeah, certainly for us as a small agency, it’s it’s quite hard sometimes for us to get that information out of our clients to then give to prospective clients.
Alex Holliman: Yeah. And I guess the thing that you said that sticks out, in my mind is the 10 years worth of dwell time on the content that you’ve produced? So was it Zoe?
Kat Arney: Yeah, because I don’t quote me on that number. Exactly. But it was like it was the number I calculated it was staggering.
Alex Holliman: And I think he’s that kind of because that then tips his hat to the actual quality of the work you’ve produced. If that was like, five minutes or something, then this their comparative sort of benchmark. And because of the the awards that you’ve won, have, you noticed a lot of impacts from having won awards for working with that client and the projects you did?
Kat Arney: It certainly has helped to raise attention among prospective clients, which has been really nice. So we have you know, it’s a tough one. I like awards, because I’m someone who likes to, you know, I like it. It’s quite nice to be recognised and recognised as doing a good job. We don’t put in for loads and loads and loads of awards. Again, as a small agency, we’ve got limited budget, because it all costs money. Every single one of these costs money to enter. And, you know, I’d rather I’d rather have awards that really recognise, value that we’ve done, and value that we’ve, we’ve generated, than like a handful of awards, but you basically paid to play.
Alex Holliman: And that’s the thing. I think it’s the quality of the projects that was won the award and then the award itself. So it needs to be taken, not just as a strapline of award winning agency, you can sort of do a bit of digging and actually look at the quality of it because I get sent emails every now and then where I can pay $750 or whatever it is, and I can become an award winning agency, but it’s just like have you actually done anything for it?
Kat Arney: Yeah, the drum award was just incredible to win. Because, you know, we were up against really, really big companies and agencies, and we ended up winning. What was the two categories, our best pivots? initiative because I both Zoe and first create the media had to do quite a dramatic pivot. And then also the overall chairs Awards, which was, you know, that was fantastic. And we’ve also been shortlisted for the Oxford bio network awards for most impactful Life Sciences support organisation, and the like, you know, what’s that? That’s not big and fancy. That’s not a big thing. But it for actually for us, that is the Oxford bio network is this big, you know, organisation networking, life sciences organisations, we didn’t pay to enter it. We’re incredibly good. Like the other organisations were up against like, wow. And it’s, that’s feels phenomenal, because it’s actually our, our peers, and also our potential clients. That’s a really nice one.
Alex Holliman: Absolutely. That sounds like it has inherent sort of depth and meaning to it.
Kat Arney: Yeah, yeah, for sure.
Alex Holliman: So when you first speaking to a client, what are the signs for you that a client is potentially going to be a good fit or a bad fit?
Kat Arney: It’s just a slightly triggering, we’ve just had an experience where we’ve, we’ve pulled out of working with a client, is there a sort of, you know, the phrase like more red flags and the Chinese navy springs to mind. So I think a good fit is where they are clear on what they want to achieve, not necessarily exactly what they wanted to do. You know, some clients are like, Okay, we’ve done all the work on what we want to do we know that we want to create, you know, a suite of ebooks, or we want to write up all these projects, or whatever it is like, okay, fine, you’re clear on what you want to do and why the difficult ones are just like, we just want some comms, help, and okay. Are you amenable to actually paying for the process of drilling into that? You know, because this whole discovery process of actually all right, what do you Who are you trying to reach? What is going to be the best way of doing that? What do you want people to do? That is not something that people should sort of get for free? I think. So it’s like, are you prepared to pay for a discovery phase before we help with the comms? And companies that are prepared to engage in that? And like, yes, because you understand that if you don’t get that bit, right, you’re basically going to be wasting money, potentially, on producing comms that don’t hit the mark, don’t target your audience, all this kind of stuff. So organisations that aren’t prepared to properly drill into that I’m concerned about, and then also just things like taking ages to get back to you being disorganised different people in the same organisation not knowing what’s going on being really unclear on deliverables. So we’ve we’ve had an issue recently with not even being prepared, not being able to draw up the work order, because we’ve just like, we just can’t get clarity on the deliverables. And the and the goalposts keep moving, and the deadlines get tighter and tighter and tighter and tighter and everyone’s starting to panic. I’m not, I don’t want work like that. Yeah, absolutely. People coming in a panic, as well, like, Oh, we’ve got two weeks. And we need this.
Alex Holliman: I think we sometimes get people will engage with us not the sort of strategy to have, we want this sort of direction about what we’re going to do online, they will have a sort of technical problem with something that they’re doing take could be with Facebook ads, or Google ads or something. And those kinds of problems are always it’s like stepping into a burning building or something like that. And as an agency owner, if you’ve got a finely tuned approach to managing deliverable work, having that kind of additional stress and pressure and putting on the team can be quite problematic. Sometimes can’t it?
Kat Arney: Yeah, we’re trying to really enforce you know, at least a two week run. And it’s like, if you come to us, and you’ve got something that needs doing within two weeks, no, because now we do have systems and processes. Yeah, I think, you know, when we were smaller and a bit more of a fleet of foot, perhaps, but now we’ve got these processes, they’re there for a reason. They’re there to protect us. They’re there to protect the client. They’re there to make sure that everyone knows what we’re doing and all the steps and all the deliverables and getting the contracts in place and all this kind of thing. You know, so that we’re not putting ourselves at risk starting work on a project that’s urgent, urgent, oh, my God. And then turns out that we can’t properly nail it down and it all sort of falls apart. So yeah, that’s been a that’s been a lesson learned the hard way for sure.
Alex Holliman: And so when you’re having the initial conversations with a client, how important is that or how much emphasis do you place on introducing the client to the People that are gonna be working with them on a day to day basis.
Kat Arney: We’re small agencies, it’s pretty much like that’s us. And it is really important. So we have, we have myself, we have our Chief Operations Officer, Sarah, who does a lot of our project management as well. She’s got an operations manager that supports her. So, you know, people, people don’t get to meet him. Our suppliers do get to meet him. And, you know, he sort of does all the, the client liaison side about the finance kind of things, but for day to day projects, yeah, I think it’s really important that, you know, like, the writer that’s working on the project is part of all those discussions our content lead is a part of it, Sarah is part of it, I’m part of it initially, then it might be okay, as things get rolling, you’re just dealing with this person. But you know, we’re a small agency, so we can’t kind of do the whole bait and switch for it’s like, oh, you get Kat beginning and then you get sort of bounced around.
Alex Holliman: And so I think for us, we’re not like, like, especially big, or what I will try and do is make a conscious effort. So I might be delivering some of our pitch work. But I will then bring in and introduce the team and get them to present some of the stuff so people can get that sort of chemistry. So there isn’t that disconnectedness from I’ve had that really slick salesman up front. And now I’m dealing with this nerd that I can’t talk to, and I don’t particularly like so make sure that there’s a sort of congruence with what we’re doing from the pitch stage to activation.
Kat Arney: Yeah, definitely. And from our perspective, this is about developing our own team, well, I want Filipa our content lead to be able to do the kind of stuff I can do in terms of like, pitching and representing the company. And, you know, there’s no point in me keeping her in a box, because that doesn’t actually benefit us. In the long term. It’s better for her development, that she is learning to be confident, an ambassador representative to understand how this process works to I’m trying to get her more involved in the strategic work that we do. All this kind of stuff, it’s like that’s going to be beneficial for us. It’s no point just trying to keep her in a box. And just making sure that she only does that, you know, Sharon, who does the writing things
Alex Holliman: doesn’t come out and see daylight.
Kat Arney: Yeah, it’s not there’s no benefit at all. And also, it’s a bit weird, you can’t sort of pretend as an agency, that it’s just you and you know, you’ve got to involve the team in it.
Alex Holliman: I think so. How important do you feel contracts are to like sign contracts, tied into contracts? Or maybe not tied in? But what sort of lenghts do you go for? And that kind of thing? What sort of how do you do that?
Kat Arney: Yeah. So having been having been burned having me burned even quite recently? Yeah, it’s always these things. It’s like we don’t start work without a contract. But this just this time, they’ll be fine. It will be fine. But then it’s so urgent. And I Yeah, no, that was the last one. No starting work, until the contract has been signed. And I don’t care how urgent it is Now. If you if it’s that urgent, you’ll sign the contract. I, in terms of like the kinds of contracts, we sort of do a mix of work. So some of our clients are on long term, retainer type things. And we’ve got various different models, there are some, like, it’s just sort of an ongoing delivery thing. Some of it is like a retainer with points for different amounts of work, because they, they need that flexibility. It’s not, oh, we’re doing two blog posts a month, it’s like, okay, some months is gonna be more, some months, it’s gonna be less, that kind of stuff, or they want like a white paper, and a blog post. Something else? Yeah. So we try and have those kinds of flexible models. But then other things are just one off projects. And we’re doing a big video video project for someone at the moment. We’ve done like big brochures and reports, that kind of thing. So they’re more one off kinds of things.
Alex Holliman: And I think probably the industry that I come from is probably more like the Wild West. But there is a certain type of agency that deliver certain services that we do. And they will use the security of a long term contract to under deliver and maximise profits and not actually look after their clients. And so what we find sometimes we do with clients, we enter into situation where we actually will say to them, we will work with that contract for three months, we’ll have an informal agreement that’s signed, but then after three months, when you’ve experienced what we’d like to work with, you’ve had the service delivery, you’ve got the confidence in us we then move because sometimes it can be a bit like moving into a second marriage with clients sometimes in the industry that we work in whereby they’ve got all the burden and the mysteries of their first marriage but actually we’re really nice people we’re not gonna deal with that stuff that you’re horrible first wife did but yeah,
Kat Arney: yeah, we have done things like and we’re a bit careful about this because we don’t we want to avoid like too many like little snacky projects because every single potential new every new client has to be on boarded has to go through our processes has to be set up, all this kind of thing. So we we don’t Wouldn’t you know loads of very low value projects, but where we think that there is a client that’s got longevity? It’s like, Okay, we’ll do one ebook for you. Try it, see if you like it. And then we can commission another series. What we, you know, obviously, it’s nice to know that we’ve got like bigger chunky projects or ongoing projects. But yeah, it depends on the kind of work and the client. And at some point, yeah, are there red flags? Does this look like it’s got legs? For these kinds of things? And then that’s just a bit of a gut feeling?
Alex Holliman: Absolutely. So I have got this question about what is the coolest thing that you’ve done the pitch. So we have never done anything cool on a pitch, I’ve heard about stories about we want to run a competitive pitch situation about 15 years ago, that previous role I had, and one of the incumbent agency had not looked after the client had messed around the client. So client had put the account off a pitch, they turned up with a not a gravestone, but like a piece of granite with 10 commandments carved into it, saying, This is what we shall do. And so it’s a fantastic idea, client absolutely fell for it. And then four months later came back to us because they said they didn’t actually deliver on any of those promises whatsoever. So it wasn’t worth the granite it was written. I spoke to the lady last week, I think, who actually sang a song in the pitch that involve the client’s brand name. We just couldn’t get away with that. So is there anything that you’ve ever done that you’ve thought that is, you’ve smacked out of the park?
Kat Arney: We don’t actually do a lot of competitive pitching. Because most of our work, we’re very lucky that most of our work does come through personal recommendations, word of mouth, people just coming to us. Increasingly, people are like, I saw your website. Oh, that’s quite nice. That was worth money. But yeah, so I mean, not having done in a competitive pitch situation. But one of the very first long term clients that we landed, was an organisation where the person that they were working with, I just because I was already working on that, that project, hilariously, the there weren’t any contracts or anything like that. So it was very easy to talk to the client, they were not having, I knew they were not having a good time. They were feeling like just not communicated with all the money was going into a black hole. They had some big questions about what was going on. And so I was just able to address every single one of those pain points, and say, Okay, we will do this, you will own it, you will get these reports, you will get a breakdown of where the money is going, we will do all of this, you’ll be free of working with this person. And yeah, and it works. And we were able to basically increase the amount of money that they were paying for the project really significantly up to a point because the other the other organisation have basically been underpaying everyone and under, like, just under charging, really for the product that they were getting. And, and that’s been really fruitful, lovely relationship. They’ve been very, very happy. We’ve been able to try new things and innovate. And, and but the one problem with that, is that one of the things that they didn’t like, was just that the previous project was just rolling on continuously, there was no kind of because there was no contract. There was no real understanding of like, well, when do we stop this? Like, when do we renew this? And so we said, Okay, we will have a proper contract. And it will be up for renewal every year. And we will have to put a proposal back to you every single year. Part of me was like, well, that’s great, because that’s an opportunity to ask for more money, try different things, and show that you’re demonstrating value. But at the same time, it’s like, every year, we’ve got to kind of re pitch for this.
Alex Holliman: and we have several long term clients where rather than just keep that trundling along month in month out for some clients we’ve worked with for 10-11 years. And what we have is a creative Review probably around September, October every year where we start internally preparing additional ideas, things that we can bring to the table ways that we can move the business forward. And then we share those with the client in the close of the year. We try and that to do it better find out when our clients financial years. So rather than types, we can be a type to our clients financial year. So that is then more relevant to their business. And so it’s something that we’ve I’ve gotten most of my to do better on that at some point.
Kat Arney: Yeah, this kind of whole idea of like client development that is it particularly for sort of long term things. It’s it’s an ongoing relationship. And what’s been really nice is that most of our clients come back to us. So they’re either ongoing repeat clients or their clients that we have worked with, they’ve stopped and then they’ve come back or we’ll do one project with them. They’ll go away for a bit and then they’ll come back with another project. So This kind of ongoing, like, relationships that we’ve had, and being able to say, Okay, where are we now? How do you want to change this in the future? Like with Zoe, our biggest client, we’ve worked with them since 2019. At the end of 2019, they actually ended the relationship with us because they had a new vice president of branding and marketing. And obviously, what’s the first thing, new broom does by the agency? Within two months, they were back? It was a bit of an awkward Christmas, because I was like, oh, no, we’ve lost our biggest client, what am I going to do? But they were back. And then from there, it became like the Zoe COVID study as well. And we’ve, I think we’ve readjusted our billing model and our model with them, I think, at least twice, possibly three times. Now just to like, get, make sure that we’re delivering flexibly and the right amount and in a way that works for for both of us. So you know, we’ve had to have those ongoing conversations, to keep that client sort of moving and developing as they’ve grown as we’ve grown. All the way.
Alex Holliman: Excellent. So this has been great. So where can people find out more about you online?
Kat Arney: Yeah, so you can find out about the agency at firstcreatethemedia.com. I’m on LinkedIn, you can find me very easily. I’m Kat Arney, KAT ARNEY. I’m also on Twitter. That’s where I like to hang out for my sins @Kat_Arney. Also if you do like podcasts, so first create the media, we make a couple of science podcasts if you’re interested in that we make the genetics unzipped podcast, which is like interviews with people on the cutting edge of genetics and then narrated stories from the history of genetics kind of music and sound effects. So it’s very fun to make my favourite projects, I think. And then we’ve also just released a second series of a podcast looking at hormones, the science of hormones, and that’s called hormones, the inside story, so we’re looking at, you know, can you hack your hormones to grow taller, or to be happier or to be ageing? You know, is there such a thing as the manopause as opposed to the menopause? It’s that’s a really fun series. That’s a short series that’s out now. And wow, what are those? Yeah, find all of those and but yeah, just just reach out. I’m always happy to connect.
Alex Holliman: Excellent. Thanks ever so much for joining me today.
You can listen to this one now on www.alexholliman.com or your usual streaming platform.