Phil Blackmore // Create Health

Episode 9 'Choosing an Agency' Season 2

Published on September 6, 2022 by Alex Holliman

The ninth episode of Choosing an Agency now out

Episode 9 features Phil Blackmore. Phil has worked in agencies of all kinds over the last 20 years, big, small, global and start up. All of which leading him to his current role as the Co-Founder & Creative Partner at Create Health, an advertising and comms agency bringing creativity to healthcare marketing.

Phil speaks to Alex about his belief in the potential of creativity, which he utilises in his own work and encourages in others, including as a part of the initiative ‘Healthy Young Mind’ encouraging children to create solutions to the world’s big issues. They discuss what clients must be clear on to choose the right agency, how to determine an agency’s values and spot potential red flags. Alex and Phil also discuss budgets, pitches, full service vs specialist agencies, and how culture impacts a business.

Episode nine, 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 select the right agency to grow your business. So today, I’m joined by Phil Blackmore from Create health. Hi, Phil.

Phil Blackmore: Hi, how you doing, Alex?

Alex Holliman: Yeah, good thing. So for those that are meeting for the first time, please share a little bit more about who you are and what you do.

Phil Blackmore: So yeah, I own a business called create health, which is a pure health care agency in the advertising and marketing space. And, yeah, we specialise in strategy and creative just about any kind of business involved in health, which is a really, really interesting space. And means I get to kind of geek out on all the cool stuff that’s being invented and the magic of some creativity to it as well. So yeah, I thoroughly love what I do. And outside of that, yeah, proud dad of two and big Lego enthusiasts as well.

Alex Holliman: Ah, I know all about LEGO. And so when did you first start working in an agency Phil?

Phil Blackmore: Many, many moons ago, when things like direct mail were cool. So yeah, I started in London about 20 years ago, left the Shire of Devon in search of excitement and danger. And I found that in advertising, it was a complete industry that I didn’t really know existed. And I fell in love with it instantly. Solving problems creatively and helping brands kind of communicate with just something I really found absolutely fascinating. So yeah, I kind of cut my teeth for 10 years in a variety of kind of big network agencies. And then I think, yeah, looked for probably a better work life balance and, and a bit more kind of, yeah, outdoors time. So look to move back towards Devon, my wife is from Wales. So I still it was the perfect location for us. And yeah had been here for 10 years. Again, running it in a different in a couple of different agencies. And then about seven years ago, took the plunge to start probably building something of my own, which is create health and something that’s taken a lot longer to build than I anticipated. But it’s been a really rewarding journey so far.

Alex Holliman: What is the sort of stuff that you do on a day to day basis Phil?

Phil Blackmore: Well, as you know, running a business, no one tells you this, but there’s a lot of things you have to try and cover isn’t there a lot of hats you have to wear. So I won’t list everything that I do. In terms of the stuff that I love doing. First and foremost, it’s it’s overseeing my team in the studio. It’s made up of some really amazingly talented individuals, and it is an absolute joy to brief them and see what they come up with creatively in the craft that they put in. So yeah, primarily I’m overseeing what they’re doing and making sure that we’re delivering for clients is meeting their objectives, both from a marketing and business point of view, pushing craft so that we can really try and evidence the power of creativity and the difference it can make, you know, obviously, we all judge with our eyes. So how something looks really does matter in the advertising world. So that’s kind of the the kind of day to day part on. And obviously on top of that there is the strategic direction for the business, the overseeing of the finances, the marketing, the sales, the pipeline, and yet also heading up also the cultural side of the business and making sure that we’re creating a business that people absolutely love working at and feel very fulfilled at.

Alex Holliman: That’s right. And I saw something that you released in terms of your approach to staffing and healthcare internally as well, that looks absolutely amazing.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, that was it was called create health and happiness. And there’s a bit of a journey, I think, you know, it started the pandemic, business was going really well. And obviously, then it took a bit of a turn for not the worst. But certainly, we weren’t going to be building like we thought we were going to be it was more about getting, you know, protecting ourselves and getting through it. So there were loads of things that I wanted to do to make it, you know, a great place to work and we just weren’t in a position to do it. So kind of coming out the back of the pandemic. And being in a really good place as a business meant that we were able to finally unveil kind of our 29 initiatives and perks that we give all of our staff to retain the talent that we’ve got, but also give us a point of difference to recruit the very best into the business as we scale moving forward.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, I was really, really impressed by the some of that work that you did.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, well, it was great fun to do. And actually, it was really, really good exercise for the soul for myself and my partner, Ed to really sit down and go, What is it we’re building? What is it we want to be? What’s the legacy we’re trying to leave behind us? And I think, you know, for me, personally, staff coming and enjoying working, feeling fulfilled and truly valued is kind of like the Holy Grail, really, I mean, if people love coming to work, they’re going to do their very best for us. And as I said, I’m just not into all of this kind of, you know, bigger corporate kind of, you know, people are expendable use them. I want to make sure we’re investing in people and really building on them so that they themselves just as a career have have that that that that great journey that I’ve had so far with the people that took the time to invest in me.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, I think is that thing that’s about, you know, in the future of people looking back on their careers and thinking that they were looked after the best out when they were at our confidence.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, you know, as I’m sure you’ve had in your career, you know, we’ve all had those, those senior figures and those bosses that inspired us and took us under their wing. We’ve also had those others running businesses where you’ve gone, I just don’t get why you’d run a business this way. So I think, you know, you can learn as much from either type, you know, the bad bosses versus the good ones. And certainly for me, I’m trying to remember all the great stuff that I got taught and make sure that I’m bringing it into the business.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And so to get a feel for who you are, Phil, if you can invite four people past or present, who would that be?

Phil Blackmore: That’s a great question. And one that actually I spent quite a bit of time thinking about, because there are so many people that I would love to have dinner with, I often watch things and think God, it’d be cool to be their friend, or it wouldn’t be amazing to kind of get to get to know them. I opted mainly for people of present, actually. And, yeah, there’s a chap called Rick Lewis, who I saw on the High Performance podcast, and he just blew my mind. And I’ve followed him ever since I thought he was just amazing. And his his views on culture. You’ve got to have Sir David Attenborough. I mean, the man has seen so many things. And I couldn’t agree more with all of his thoughts and what we need to do for the planet moving forward. I think Kate Winslet is an amazing actress and a phenomenal businesswoman, as well, I think, again, think she’s probably just got such a rich past, it will be fascinating to hear about, and I’d love to know,

Alex Holliman: What sort of stuff does she do in business?

Phil Blackmore: Well, I think more than kind of, like with lots of these actors and actresses, they have their own production sites, you know, they they’re involved in the writing, they do so much more than just kind of act, you know, many of them are involved in production as well. And obviously, looking after the next generation, I think, you know, the likes of, of Kate and Gillian Anderson are doing a huge amount of work to make sure the next wave of people are being looked for in standing up for that equality that we need as well.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. I think something that Kate Winslet does is she’s an attractive woman. But some of the characters he’s played are not always, like really glamorous, and looking magnificent. They’re quite sort of day to day. And I think that society puts a lot of pressure on women to like, look amazing. There’s like the Instagramisation of life or something. Where there’s a lot of pressure put on women. And so I know that just like in some of our things, you just got like, wears like a ordinary sort of raincoat, no makeup hair not done pair of old spectacles, and quite good in terms of being that sort of tier of celebrity, but not actually bowing to the pressure of having to look as society expects it.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I mean, I think that, you know, the variety of roles, she’s taken her incredible and her ability. I mean, so many of their abilities were, I don’t know how they’re able to pick up the accents and genuinely convinced you that they’re from Deep South Texas or wherever it might be. I just as I said, the, to be able to go from meritocratic, you know, high society and write and right the other way, I just, I think, is an amazing skill to be able to genuinely understand the subject matter and then convince you that they’re, they’re all for that. So. Yeah, as I said, I think she’s, she’s incredible. And Andrew Paul, I just think would be, I watched his masterclass and, yeah, his upbringing, how everything in life kind of, kind of pushed him in the direction he was going in. I just, yeah, I think he, I think, yeah, he would just be, yeah, just incredible to meet. You know, I think, again, you can learn so much from from meeting so many different people. And I think that’s the key thing for me, I would, I’d love to have a table of 12, to be honest with you, and just have lots of really big open conversations from people from all walks of life.

Alex Holliman: I once got asked this question in a job interview probably about twenty five years ago, I can’t remember what my answers were. But thinking about it, they probably weren’t what they could have been.

Phil Blackmore: Well, that’s always a thing, isn’t it? It’s one of those things, isn’t it? Like I said, I, when you asked me this, I was like, gosh, there’s loads of people I’d like to meet. I can only pick four. So it was quite, quite tough. But yeah, I think they’d be a really interesting group. Because you’ve got, you’ve got planet business. Acting. Yeah, as I said, you’ve got a bit of everything really. Ave in terms of Yeah, I think it’d be a very interesting conversation.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. So on the professional side of things. What project or piece of work, are you most proud of?

Phil Blackmore: Tough one. And there’s lots of stuff that I’m tremendously proud of, that I’ve personally done, and also, more importantly, what my team have done since I’ve kind of been a more kind of senior figure. I think, probably the thing I’m most proud of, currently is an initiative that we set up about two or three years ago called healthy young minds. And the thinking behind it was that there are so many societal, ecological, there’s so many things that we need to focus on and fix. And I think often we look to adults to fix things and I think we have a tendency to overthink and can complicate things. Whereas actually the innocence of the way that a child often approaches a problem, you know, they see a problem and they figure out a solution. They’re not thinking about, can we afford it? Does that thing even exist? They’re just like, well, that’s the problem. So this is how we could fix it. And I find that, that thinking really refreshing and interesting. So healthy young minds is initiative where we work with schools. And once a year, we briefed them on a whole series of topics, be it Alzheimer’s, air pollution, you know, anything like that, how do we protect the sea beds, all those sorts of things, and we ask them to come up with inventions. And they can be as wild and wacky or as straight, it’s entirely up to them. And it’s, it’s really getting them to fuse the idea of of science, art, maths, all the STEM subjects, but really make sure that they’re thinking in a creative fashion. And then we get people from industry to judge them, and then obviously, award prizes. And it’s been something that’s been so rewarding, because I’ve seen some absolutely breathtaking ideas. And what’s been even nicer is to see ideas that, you know, when you’ve got people from James Dyson Foundation, judging as an example, and they’re going, we’re actually working on something like this at the moment or a robotics lab saying, We’ve got this in production. And it’s just amazing to think that someone at the age of sort of five or seven is thinking like someone in their kind of their, their late 30s 40s. And I think there’s just a lot that both sides can learn from that.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And there seems to be in this country, in education and process where that ability to think, like artistically or creatively is almost like beaten out of you. And it’s just ground out of the way, you just have to conform to a times table approach to life where everything’s just quite formulaic constructed, and you just have to sort of fit in.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I mean, I think it’s really tough for schools, if they obviously are trying to give you such a broad grounding in so many subjects. But I think my frustration is always that, and I get this with a lot of the clients as well, that they just think that if you are artistic, that means that you’re very good at drawing or painting. And that’s what they think art is whereas, you know, creativity exists in all facets of life. It’s what makes us human. And I think I’m blown away on a daily basis, when I get to the privilege of talking to a lot of the scientists and people behind the inventions that I’m marketing where they explain how they solve the problem. And it’s just as creative as what I might do with my team. It’s just a different type of creativity, it’s a different expression. And I just want, I said, I have dreams of this healthy young minds being at a really big thing one day with a really glitzy award ceremony where maybe Ant and Dec are presenting it, you know, that kind of kind of scale is where I’d love to get to it eventually. But if we can just get more kids to stick with STEM subjects and to think more creatively and not have that beaten out of them that I think that’s that’s something I’d be very proud of.

Alex Holliman: Awesome. Ant and Dec?

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I I’ve got just watched him on Byker Grove back in the day have always had a bit of a soft spot for them.

Alex Holliman: So we’re here today. So the primary thing about talking about today is about helping clients to select the right agency for their challenge. And so part of that whole process is briefing agencies. What are some of the the best sort of factors that you’ve seen included in the best briefs that you’ve seen?

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I mean, picking an agency is such a pivotal thing I think for for companies, and obviously, we’ve seen a huge trend of companies taking the creativity and the marketing in house. And it makes a lot of sense, you know, in terms of the perceived value that you can have of having a team that you already pay for on tap 24/7. I think for me, it’s all about transparency, you know, the best, the best kind of RFPs. And all of that, that we’ve worked on have been where is a really clear view of what exactly it is you want to know about us, and vice versa. And I think it’s so so important that there is a clarity around what the expectation is of the agency that you’re looking to recruit, what is it you really want them to do? Because, you know, I’ve been involved in processes where they wanting an agency to be a bit of everything. You know, the reality is, every agency has its strengths. And I think they should play to those. And I think the danger is when you have an agency that’s claiming they can be brilliant at everything, because there will be stuff that they are amazing at, but there’ll be other things that they’re quite average at. And my view is that actually it’s better to get a collection of agencies that are all really good at their thing and stitch them together, rather than necessarily relying on one big agency to be able to do it all. So for me it is that clarity of, of what it is you’re looking for, what is the services you actually want? How you you’re planning on working with that, that kind of, you know, business, you know, what are the kind of the structures in place to make sure that communication is there? What’s the type of budgets and time expectations you know, and what does success look like? Again, I think if you if you know what the company is hoping to get from working with If you can make sure that you align on that, and as I said, Put your hands up and say, well, we can’t deliver maybe that, but our KPI version will be this. And if you’re comfortable with that we can actually be hit that.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, I think it’s having that clarity. And your point about full service versus specialism is a really interesting one. So we always, we don’t we know what we’re not good at as an agency. But we have very deep expertise in what we are exceptional at. And that’s what we focus on. And then that’s outside of that purview. We don’t sort of try and turn our hand to we just started, we, you know, we have a broad network of people that you can then recommend to clients, or they can go out and source other options elsewhere.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, well, I think, you know, gone are the days of, you know, the Mad Men era where you could, you can charge a ridiculous amount of money and make a lot of profit in the production side of things. You know, clients are tremendously savvy, and rightly, so they’re spending lots of money, and they need to demonstrate return. So, you know, the whole reason we’re a specialist health agency is because it’s a subject that we love, it’s a subject that we’re passionate about, it’s one that we believe we can genuinely affect changing through the power of our creativity. And that’s where our value is. And we know that we’re very comfortable with that. So strategy, and creative is what we do, we think digitally. But if you want something built and hosted and maintained, then we’ll introduce you to any one of our fantastic partners who we would absolutely class as an extension of our business. But for me, you’ve got to as a business be able to demonstrate your value, that’s when you get a great relationship. Because if you can deliver on what you’ve promised, guess what the client will come back for more. And, you know, we’ve worked really hard to, to build the relationships we have with clients, you know, some of them we’ve had in the business for six years. And they’re using us as much as they always have, because they know they’ll get the goods from us because they know what we’re good at.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, absolutely. So if a client’s looking to select agencies, like very often they’ll like have a sort of cold pitch process they go through what advice would you give to clients about managing that process?

Phil Blackmore: The kind of the pitch process is a really interesting one. And there’s, there’s obviously been a lot of debate about agency shouldn’t pitch and you know, have a no pitch mentality. And I think, as much as I applaud it, on the one hand, because it’s an expensive process to go through for a business, and you’re not guaranteed to get any returns. The reality it’s just how how things work. So I think the advice I, you know, first and foremost would be if you’re going to invite businesses to tender, it would be not to have too many. I’ve remembered pitches in the past where, you know, we’ve been one of 18 agencies that they’ve asked to come on pitch. And, you know, you when you work out what your odds are of winning, guess what, there’s not much point going for it, because when you think of the time and investment that it’s going to cost you as a business, you know, you’ve got to be pretty bolted on that you think you stand a chance of winning, which

Alex Holliman: You multiply that cost for your agency across 18 agencies, it’s a phenomenal sort of industry expenditure, isn’t it?

Phil Blackmore: I mean, it’s, you know, in all honesty, it’s very hard, I think, for most creative businesses to pitch and not rack up at least 10ks worth of cost. Because the time that you need to invest, make sure you put your best foot forward and get your head around a brief is it you know, it can’t just be done overnight. So best advice from from my point of view would be to be very selective in terms of who you want to take forward to pitch by all means go out and talk to loads of agencies, but then genuinely put down a shortlist of a much smaller group of businesses that you think are the right fit. So I think having that kind of qualification and meeting time beforehand is really important. And then I think, in terms of the pitch itself, it’s trying to make sure that you are you are genuinely being being fair. So again, we get a lot of pitches where there’s an incumbent involved, often the pitches are really about giving them a bit of a kick around trying to glean some fresh ideas. That’s not really in the spirit of fairness. And if you’re, you’re not really planning on moving over to another agency, because you’re slightly risk averse, then it’s not really in the spirit of what it should be about. So for me, I kind of think pitches shouldn’t really include an incumbent, I think it should be fresh agencies that are all brought into the mix, and judged on their ability. And I think, you know, one of the other key things is, is making sure what it is you want to see at pitch. Again, an agency can go off and do loads of stuff, but be really targeted with what you want to test them on, you know, is it their strategy? Is it their creative thinking? Is it the processes? Or is it more that people do you want to make sure that you’re meeting the actual people that will work on your business? If you were to award it to the agency, and more often than not, it should be about the people I think because you’ve got to get that sense of trust that I can work with you. And finally, be really clear what your budget is. You know, I’ve pitched for things in the past where I was told it was a huge budget and then when we’ve won the work, the budget has gone down by about 70% which which is why you know we have I mean we have a qualification process for about 35 questions and scorecards, and we don’t go after anything can tell, we’re really happy that we’ve ruled out all the reasons why we shouldn’t go for it. And we’ve got a clearer view of why it’s a worthwhile thing to go for.

Alex Holliman: Yeah, and that whole budgeting question is really important, because there’s certain projects, which we would be a really good fit for. But there’s ones that are going to be beyond our capabilities as an agency. And then ones on the other hand, that is going to be too small for us. And so to be very, very clear about that at the outset, you can find that area in the middle, where you’re going to be able to make an impact for the budget that a client has.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, and, you know, agency, I mean, budget is so so important, because you can come back with something irrelevant, but I do appreciate that over the years, agencies probably haven’t done themselves any favours by a client saying, My budget is 100,000. You know, you’re rocking up with a budget, that’s a penny shy of that, you know, I mean, the reality is, I think there is a fear a lot of the times that if a client tells you what their budget is, you’re gonna come in exactly on that budget, because you’re gonna land grab money, which isn’t the case, which is why something that I think agencies should do, but also clients should look for is, we price things in three tiers. So we always do kind of almost a gold, silver, bronze, it’s not to do with the quality of work you’re going to get, it’s just more the the amount of stuff you’re going to get. So we will, we’ll come on with a budget that is in line with what we think you must do. And then we’ll have two others that are stretching and pushing you further. And it doesn’t mean you have to have that money available right away. But it’s more about that longer term view of once the first phase is done, what could we do next? And I think that’s always a really good, good barometer for clients, because it just means that again, someone is genuinely thinking about longer term, if we win this project, what could that mean? And how can we support?

Alex Holliman: and we do a very, very similar thing where sometimes we’ll have a client where there’ll be have the confidence based on pre existing campaigns that are structured or whatever to go at the sort of top tier of what we’re proposing. But sometimes we’ll have the starting point, and then we’ll try and move them through the gears based on performance. And something that I always try and say to the team here is that we get paid to do our job. But then what we need to do is to then over service come up with ideas that will drive incremental growth above and beyond just the basics, because we’re just doing what we’re paid for. That’s the basic, we need to come up with more and generate other ideas, because it’s that thinking that will differentiate us in quite competitive marketplace.

Phil Blackmore: Absolutely. And to be honest with you. That I mean, that’s where any agency is really real value is it’s the thinking, you know, when it comes to the actual production of things, arguably, it’s all it’s all pretty much of a muchness, it’s the thinking that’s crucial.

Alex Holliman: So if clients are looking at agencies and trying to build that sort of candidate list, what are the signs that an agency is either a good or a bad fit for a client?

Phil Blackmore: In many ways, I mean, a client, I mean, an agency is it’s all about reputation, isn’t it? You know, I’ve often believed that you’re only as good as the last piece of work that you’ve done. And, you know, that hasn’t quite gone as well as you’d hoped, you’ve got to work pretty hard on the next piece to make sure the client still very much sees you as that partner and has that value. But in terms of that initial kind of, you know, you’re looking for a new agency, I mean, I think you should look at agencies. And, you know, first and foremost, look at the website, and have a really good look at the work they’ve done and get a sense of do is the work they’re doing, does it excite you? First and foremost, is it does it feel relevant? Do you feel like you’ve got a good, you know, if they got a good handle on your sector, you know, it’s always going to be weird, if you are, you know, a healthcare agent, or healthcare, business or a tech business, and you go and pick an agency that’s never worked in that space, I mean, you know, you’re gonna have to get them up to speed tremendously quickly, and invest a lot of time, and you’re not going to know if you’re gonna get the goods back. So, yeah, I would always look for people that clearly have experience in your space. I think, you know, another big thing is looking at what the values are of that business. You know, again, you can see all the staff, you know, go and have a look at how long they’ve worked at that business, you know, have a look at the mixture of those people as well, the diversity in terms of, you know, gender, age, etc. And, yeah, look at their socials and just get a real sense of, you know, what do they stand for, and you get a good feel from them. I mean, for me, working with an agency should be exciting. It should be fun. And if you aren’t getting a buzz from just looking at what you think they’re about before you’ve met them, then they’re probably not right for you. Obviously, awards and stuff like that can also massively help build up an agency’s kind of perceived reputation. And again, that’s something you probably need to consider as well. And so you’re kind of looking at the awards and obviously the information at Companies House and an on credit agencies, you know, you want to make sure that the business I think is not only looking fabulous from the outside, but if you actually look behind the you know, the you know, the closed door, are they you know, have they got a good credit score, have they got you know, are they are they respectful in business, I think is also tremendously important.

Alex Holliman: I think it’s interesting you mentioned fun, the client should feel excited and agency we’ve had, we are. I’ve got one client that I’ve had for 11 years. And he refers to me as his IT guy.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah.

Alex Holliman: He’s very charming. He doesn’t think that, you know, he thinks that what we do is part of the IT sort of thing, he doesn’t talk me up and asked her, and he’s got a problem with this computer. And so I think sometimes, what we do, it can be it’s very numbers based and sort of is quite analytical and data driven. And that can be quite a dry sort of conversation to have. So to bring a sense of fun. And the reverence to that is something that I try and encourage with the team. And I think that’s where you can develop that chemistry with a client in a quiet and to make the whole experience pleasurable rather than just like, with all due respect to accountants, like sitting down accounts and going through a tax return or something like that. It’s quite this, like, root canal treatment will be more fun than that. I’d posit.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, absolutely. And again, you know, if I think about certainly the last couple of years, and kind of the whole zoom and screen fatigue, that so many people have got, I mean, most of the clients that I talk to on a daily basis, bless their heart, they are from beginning of the morning to late at night, just back to back meetings. And that must be exhausting. So my view is that the the hour or whatever time they’ve got booked in with create health should be one they genuinely look forward to, because it’s going to be, it’s going to be valuable, we’re going to get through it, we need to but actually, it’s also going to be done in a much more kind of fun and entertaining way that, you know, it’s about connection, isn’t it? Relationships, you want to make sure that on that human level, everyone’s just kind of like, Yeah, this is good. You know, I enjoy working with you. And, you know, you do great stuff. But you also, you know, you, as we were saying earlier, you’re not putting on a facade, you’re actually just being you and, you know, making some jokes, and just really trying to ensure that there is that connection.

Alex Holliman: So on the connection side of things, then you mentioned earlier about values, what clients do to, so you often go into offices, and they’ll be some picture of like a waterfall with a fantastic long word that’s meant to move you or something like that, how can the client understand values of an agency and to work out how they fit into an agency’s approach?

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think, you know, you mentioned at the beginning about create health and happiness, I mean, we’ve always been very open in our credentials about the values that are that we set and hold ourselves to, in this business. And, you know, things like create health and happiness are just an extension of that even more. So. And I think, agencies, you know, there are loads of incredible agencies out there, and loads of agencies that are doing amazing things, not just in terms of the work they do for the clients, but amazing things for the way that they, you know, they treat their staff and the things that they’re building. And they often think we do a really good job of marketing for our clients and a terrible job of marketing ourselves. And it’s obviously because it’s not paid for when you’re working on your own businesses. So it’s always kind of the poor relation as it were. But I think agencies just need to be much better at sticking out what it is they stand for, and what they believe in. And, you know, they’ve all got them, they’ve all got the presentation. So just often forget to tell people about them. And I think the more they share with that, you know, it just helps people get a real understanding of who they are and what they stand for. I think also, it’s really important. And there’s been lots of discussion on this recently, particularly kind of after cop 26. With regards to this, it’s really easy to have these purposeful lines, and these these buzzwords, etc. But if they’re not genuinely joined up to the core strategy and running of a business, any business now, they’re never going to be lived and breathed. And I think, you know, there’s just no point having vacuous terms, you know, you need to, you need to build something that is fundamentally centred around what it is you believe, as a business, and it doesn’t often have to sound as fancy as people think it can be as, as simple as, yeah, it can be just really simple. It just needs to be something that’s true and authentic. You know, and I mean, we’ve got a fancy living wall with a neon sign in our new office that has our core belief, that is that creativity is the cure, you know, in all facets of life, if you’re trying to solve a problem, you need to think creatively about how you solve that. And, you know, certainly for us in healthcare, which is obviously what we work in. Every time we’ve been able to really show what creativity can do. The results that have come back for the client have been absolutely phenomenal. And the you know, they have that hallelujah moment of, that’s what they’ve been talking about. And it’s lovely when you see that because then they want more, and you can genuinely show how you’re delivering value and effecting change.

Alex Holliman: Perfect. So, Phil, are there any red flags that a client should look out for when speaking to agencies?

Phil Blackmore: I mean, there will be absolutely and I can’t really speak on behalf of what other agencies might do. I mean, I think for me, the key thing for any client looking to got to kind of give their business to an agency is to, as I’ve said before, make sure they’re speaking to the people that are going to work on their business. Again, it’s very common, I think, for you to end up with a kind of an 18 for the pitch where all the big guns and the CEO write the way down, tip up for a meeting. And they, you know, they blow you away with, obviously, their experience and, and what have you. And then obviously, once the business is won, you know, the cheaper juniors are often stuck on these things. And I just don’t think that’s right. For me, you know, the team that pitch for the work should be the team that ended up working on the account. And again, as I said, for, it’s a really simple thing our world, isn’t it, it’s all about trust and relationships. And, you know, once you’ve established that and built that you can, you can build further and get more because there is that sense of, of knowing that where each other stands. So for me, if you are talking to an agency, and you’re not really talking to the account handler, or the creative, that’s going to be actually working on your project, you want to be asking to meet them as well, because they’re probably the people that you’re interact with on a daily basis, as opposed to the big senior figures that probably won’t be on it. And, you know, equally if you are not getting that time with seniors, I’ll also be concerned because, again, that’s where so much of the value is because as fantastic as the younger talent often is, they haven’t got that 20 years worth of experience where they know how to instinctively react to things. So you need I mean, for me, a client needs a mix of all ages, you know, so that you’re getting a really full and rounded kind of picture and view of the world and the best work possible.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely. And there needs to be a because if you meet a really sick salesperson in the pre work with agency phase, and then there’s a disconnect between suddenly been thrown in. So working with a team who you’ve not met, who then have to then re explain everything, you’ve already gone through that maybe it’s been miscommunicated or not clearly communicated. And so to have the account team brought in at some stage, you actually meet them face to face, and you can actually work out whether there will be some rapport with them, and you can connect with them. And whether you can get on with them. Whether you speak a sort of similar language is really important isn it?

Phil Blackmore: It isn’t, you know, and another thing for me, I think, and again, everyone’s processing view on this will be different. But you know, when you think about the pre work that’s done by procurement, and what have you to shortlist agencies, etc, they’ve already done a fair amount of homework on you to get you on a list. So again, I think, if an agency is tipping up to present to you, and they’re spending a vast amount of the meeting talking about themselves, that’s also something to be very mindful of, because they’re probably more worried about their own reputation and what they’re going to get out of it rather than doing the best possible job. You know, for me, it’s taken years to get to this place, but we know our in our our creds and our opening presentation, you know, we cover our entire, what you need to know about us in about four slides, four or five slides, and they’re very light touch, it’s kind of very centred around what we believe and what we do our value is. And then the rest of the time, you know, that takes minutes to go through the rest of the time, then it’s all about the client, and what we think their challenges are and how we think we can help them and for me, you know, that’s that’s the sign of what’s going to be a good relationship, because it’s not about me, it’s about you. And I think, you know, that’s, that’s really, really important.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely, we do a very, very similar thing whereby the majority of a meeting at that early stage, we’ll be talking about impact that we can make on the client’s business and their market and their challenges and how we can help solve them.

Phil Blackmore: Absolutely, yeah.

Alex Holliman: So what are some of the coolest things that you’ve done on a pitch?

Phil Blackmore: Do you mean in terms of the way that we’ve pitched it? Or just the experience itself?

Alex Holliman: Anything? So it could be Hey, you’ve pitched it with? And this is that my behind the four people with invite to a dinner party question. This is turning out to be one of the the it’s up there with the second best question.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I mean, I think, thinking back over over the over the 20 years, I mean, there’s been been lots of fantastic pitches, and obviously some that also have been pretty horrendous to work on as well. You know, thinking fondly of the ones which for me really have stuck out. I mean, you know, one of the agencies I worked at, we always used to make a, we used to make a proper film that we’d show at the beginning of the pitch, and you know, I remember we did one for for breast cancer, and again, we got everyone like body painted up and what have you, and we, you know, we got everyone in the business involved in producing a film and talking about all the people that were affected in our lives and what have you. And, you know, it was a really emotional piece. Actually, it was one that everyone loved doing. And when we played that to the to the charity, you know, remember the feedback they gave us when we want it was Yeah, to be honest with you. You won it as soon as you’d finished playing the film, because you just had come across as being so invested, but it’s one of those things that was just really Yeah, every got that whole agency together and galvanised us all and it also, again, just got everyone talking about things that they’ve been through and health and the importance of it, etc. So that was that was wicked. I’ve been in other pitches where we’ve we’ve actually, you know, hired actors to play a role and help bring something to life, which has also been cool. We’ve mocked up on billboards, you know, you know, we’ve had things mocked up and then taken a client to it and shown it in, in, in real life, and they’ve gone, you know, it just helps them imagine it. So they’re kind of the bigger things which have been lots of fun, and amazing to do. And then in terms of just the general experience, I mean, there’s nothing cooler than, you know, to be honest with you getting to, I’ve had the privilege of travelling to lots of, you know, other countries and cities to go and meet, the clients see their, where they live, see the amazing facilities they’ve got in terms of where they make an event, and just being immersed in that and then actually pitching whilst you’re kind of, there’s robotic arms behind you building stuff is also just there things that you, you don’t imagine you would ever get to do. But when you do, it’s just, they’re just they make it worthwhile, don’t they, in terms of, you know, when someone says, what did you do last week, and you tell them, it’s just lovely to have that excitement and variety that I think we get as working in agency world.

Alex Holliman: Well, that definitely bakes some of the cool stuff that we’ve done with really radical calculations on the census, we could potentially save or grow something so

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, I mean, obviously, we’re all about creative. So it’s all about the big reveal, as it were. But yeah, as I said, I think there’s, again, the pitch process, anything you can do to stand out is so so key. And one of the things that we’ve got to do less of recently, but you know, I think is tremendously important is I remember, we won one client, and we’ve been waiting in reception. And we’ve made a point of, you know, as we always do, just chatting very nicely to people on reception and what have you. And it was really interesting, because the account that we won the CEO, actually, after everyone had pitched, they went and spoke to the receptionist and said, right, we want your take on the four companies we’ve just met. And it was really interesting, because, you know, we were put forward by them as they seem like genuinely lovely people. And they took the time to talk to us. They were really interesting. And I think, huge bit of advice I’d give to agencies is, yeah, make a point of genuinely respecting everyone and making an effort with everyone. Because I think that says so much about you as your character and the values that you have.

Alex Holliman: Absolutely the best. And I don’t know where I’ve heard this story from, I can’t remember which agency it was, I think it was Network Rail, or pitching their business. And they turned up to this agency to have a presentation. Though, kept waiting in reception, there was all untidy magazines, everywhere, coffee cups, cigarette butts on the floor, just like looks really horrible. They started complaining. And there was a point they started complaining said, that is the experience that you give your customers, we’re going to show you now how we’re going to help you solve that and sort that out.

Phil Blackmore: Oh, wow.

Alex Holliman: I know, I know, very bold, I wouldn’t be able to do it at all go into that it’s a win or lose situation, isn’t it? It’s gonna go one or two ways.

Phil Blackmore: Yeah, absolutely. Well, you know, I think it was, you know, many years ago, the likes of St. Luke’s and I know, this is a common thing for lots of businesses now and brands. But, you know, they used to actually build, you know, if they were going to advertise, you know, a brand. And, you know, for shoes or something, they’d actually build a mock shoe shop, and just really try and understand how it is to be in that environment. And I always thought, you know, those kinds of brand rooms as they were defined is such a, such a bloody brilliant idea. Because there’s, that’s when you really get to understand how product or marketing and how people behave in that space. And that’s where I think, again, if you genuinely understand that kind of stuff, that’s where the insight comes from, that drives that great creativity.

Alex Holliman: So what are the agencies that you really admire in your space?

Phil Blackmore: Is plenty of them. I think, for me, the likes of Langland incredible, and always have been creatively. I mean, they got bought out a while ago. But yeah, certainly prior to that, that the work that they were they were doing was just, you know, there’s a reason they’ve won as many Awards and won everything that there is to win because the work that they did that they put out there was just so beautifully thought through and the craft was there to match. So I think they’re amazing. The likes of KBA I think do amazing work as well. But I also think culturally their head and shoulders above so many other agencies because they genuinely are, you know, they have this kindness works initiative, which it really is all about. Yeah, building that talent, recruiting that talent, but also making sure they absolutely look after those people and treat them as people and not as just employees. It’s all about that and I think they do a great job as well. And yeah, I mean, again, I look at I look at bigger businesses, you know, the likes of McAllen health and and people like that area 23 They do some, some incredible stuff. And I could only dream of the budgets they get to work with sometimes. And yeah, I think they do some some absolutely brilliant work. I think with McCann, certainly McCann health, one of the things that I admire about them is because of their genuine global footprint, they do a load of work that is, you know, really trying to where raise awareness of maybe the The Forgotten illnesses and people that are struggling. So they do a lot of work in the charity space. And I think it’s great to see that they do that because they are taking responsibility to make sure that because they can because they’ve got the budgets and the size and scale that they are putting a spotlight on other things as well, which I think is very admirable.

Alex Blackmore: Absolutely, absolutely. This has been great. Where can people find out more about you online?

Phil Blackmore: So I’m all over LinkedIn. I’m pleased to say that I managed to bag the Phil Blackmore name before someone else did there are a few of us as an extreme juggler from Britain’s Got Talent. Don’t confuse me with him. I am rubbish at juggling.

Alex Holliman: That was my next question.

Phil Blackmore: Was it? Yeah, I’m I can’t juggle chainsaws. I’m quite good at juggling lots of projects. But yeah, so all over LinkedIn and then obviously, is where you can find out about us and what we stand for.

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

Phil Blackmore: Thank you so much for having me, Alex. It’s been really good to talk.

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