Listen to the tenth and final instalment of the Choosing an Agency podcast, series one.

Alex grills Sean Carnegie, Managing Partner of Radioville a audio creative agency, on his dream dinner party guests, the importance of aligning your values with your chosen agency and how vital it is to meet the team who will be looking after your day to day work.

Alex: Hello, and welcome to choosing an agency. My name’s Alex and I'm here to talk about how to select the right agency to grow your business, giving you the inside line on things to look out for the next time you need external support. I'll be interviewing industry figures from all manner of backgrounds to get hints and tips on the things to consider when choosing an agency. Today, I'm joined by Sean Carnegie from Radioville. Hi, Sean.

Sean: Hi, how are you?

Alex: Yeah, good. Thanks. So, for people that are just meeting you for the first time, could you share a little bit more about who you are and what you do?

Sean: Sure, I’m Sean as we've already established, Managing Director at Radio Ville. We’re an audio creative agency so we use sound – you know, radio commercials or podcast production. We use sound to help brands gain more customers and raise their awareness.

Alex: What are some of the clients you've worked with?

Sean: Over the years? Wagamama, Lexus, Talk Talk, Guinness, the Edgio, Screw fix, Adidas, Coca-Cola, Funding Circle. So, yeah, some big clients. Also, you know, we do some charitable work. We're currently working with a relatively small charity called Nam and they're a charity that helps circulate trustworthy information around HIV and AIDS, especially to the HIV community to make sure they've got access to, like I said, trustworthy information and news. So, we're working with them. So, it's not only massive clients, but we also work with smaller brands as well.

Alex: Awesome. And that kind of work is the sort of stuff that will make your heart sing, trying to do some good out there in the world and that kind of thing.

Sean: Yeah, it's good for the soul. Because often, you know, advertising is regarded as the devil's work, isn't it? It's nice to be able to do something that's good for the soul

Alex: Perfect. So, to get a feel for who you are, if you can invite four people, past or present, to a meal who would that be?

Sean: I want to go a little soppy here, Alex, if you don't mind. So, it would be my parents, my two sisters. So, I lost my parents at quite a young age. So, I lost my mum, my dad in my early 20 but my two sisters are still alive. So, that would be a lovely meal to get my mum and dad back, and my two sisters at the table. You have the five of us. Yeah. So, I was going to say Nelson Mandela Gandhi and all of that, but I thought let me keep it real.

Alex: Absolutely. And I think you know, I've lost both my parents, and I lost my dad 15 years ago, my mom a couple of years ago, and what I would give for just half an hour with them - just to have a chat and talk about old times. And there's all the stuff that when I was just busy doing my stuff, I wasn't talking to him about - you want to chat to them about what they got up to when they're younger, that kind of thing. So, on the work side of things, what's the sort of project or piece of work that you're most proud of?

Sean: I think it'd be the Lexus campaign that we did quite a while ago, where it was for their hybrid range of vehicles. So, the campaign was explaining to people how seamlessly the Lexus hybrid range of cars switch from the petrol engine to the electric engine. So, we cast two voices that starred in a radio campaign, two voices that sounded very similar to one another, and we started off the commercial with one voice. And then we switched to the other voice halfway through without most listeners being aware of the switch, to illustrate how seamlessly the Lexus car engine switches from petrol to electric, and it won awards which was good. But what was really funny about this campaign is that we got loads of people calling up saying, I've heard your commercial. It's awesome. Did you really use two different voices? Where was the switch? Tell us when the switch was. Yeah, so it worked on all fronts.

Alex: And that sort of creative ingenuity is a big part of what you guys do.

Sean: Yeah, it was. It's a simple idea on paper, but we executed it well, and it was really in keeping with the whole proposition, which was the seamless nature that the hybrid engines were.

Alex: Awesome. So, in this series of podcasts, we're going to be looking at what clients can do to better choose an agency that’s a good fit for them. So, in your opinion, what can be done to improve the quality of work that clients get shown?

Sean: I would say, better briefing process so there’s two things I would say - sufficient time to work on the project. The more time you give an agency, the better work you're likely to get. So, time, I would say but also, before we start working on the project, I think it's about having a robust briefing process where everyone's clear on the objectives of the campaign, but also that the client is very focused and single-minded on the messaging they want to be communicated within any one execution. Especially in our line of work in radio and sound and audio commercials, what you don't want is to load up any one commercial with too many messages, because it just becomes muddled, and the listener doesn't take anything away from it. But I think the same is true of any bit of communication. Too many messages lead to the end user not taking away any. It's like throwing balls at someone, you throw, throw too many balls at someone, they're unlikely to catch any of them. Whereas if you throw just one, the chances of them catching that is in greatly increased, and I think the same is true with your messaging. So, having a really robust briefing process, I think, ultimately leads to better work. And I think as part of that briefing process, the mission should always be to try and uncover - people call it the USP - which is fine, but it's the real core truth about the product or service. The real truth that will resonate with a large percentage of the people that you're trying to attract. And once you can unearth that and use that to leverage the creative, I think that will lead to better, more authentic work.

Alex: Awesome, so that’s almost like uncovering the pain point that the product or service resolves.

Sean: Or truth. Like, you know, you look at Marmite, for example. The real product truth there is, some people hate it. It's that simple, and less brave brands would have shied away from that. I think they would have tried to position it as something that everyone loves, you know, which -

Alex: Absolutely -

Sean: So, it's about uncovering, yeah, solving pain points, but it's finding the real truth about your brand, or product or service and leveraging that truth to come up with really strong creative ideas.

Alex: So, in that briefing process from a client, how important is it for you to get a budget from a client?

Sean: It's incredibly important. And I know sometimes clients try to shy away from giving budgets, because they feel that they might be giving away more than you'd be willing to accept, and we can talk about that. We can talk about that argument another time, maybe. But I think it's incredibly important to have a budget because that will inform the creative response. And there's no point us or as agencies going away and presenting ideas that the client can't afford, because it just wastes everyone's time. So, I think if a client doesn't want to give you a specific budget, they can at least give you the parameters.

Alex: Absolutely. In that briefing process from a client, is there a sort of qualification process that you go through to make sure there's a good fit for you guys and the client?

Sean: We don't have a scientific one. It's a bit of a gut feel. Especially when it comes to qualifying leads. But both really because our processes are, more often than not, we have inbound leads, so people get in touch, they inquire. Our first watch out is if they're not up for a 20 minutes, a quick 10-to-15-minute chat to understand what their objective is. So often, we'll get - right we're interested in doing a radio commercial, how much does it cost? So, at that point, we will say, thanks for getting in touch. When have you got 15 minutes for us to talk about your objective in a bit more detail? If they say, can we just deal with this on email for the time being, we tend to say this is not how we work - wish you all the best for your project. Speak to you later. All politely. Or if the brand getting in touch is a brand we might want to work with, we might say, we understand that you might be short on time but what we found is, having this short discovery call saves time further down the line and also enables us to understand whether or not we're a good fit for each other. So, then we'll have a conversation and then this during that conversation, we'll get a sense from them as to the kind of budget they've got and how serious they are about a project. And if they're just shopping around, well, then we'll give them a really wide ballpark of the likely costs and the process. And then I suppose it’s during that conversation, we'll get a sense as to whether or not we like this client's vibe.

Alex: You get to unearth so much more that can't be written down in a briefing document or a sheet of paper. You get the chemistry, you have these little nuances, there's body language, there's all these kinds of things that you can uncover, and you can then get a feel for actually, you know, are these aligned, in terms of what we're trying to do as business?

Sean: Yeah, exactly. But as you’ve said, it’s difficult to get that from a briefing document. I think, even if it's not a zoom call, just a phone call because then you get a sense of how serious they are about moving on, if you're good fit for one another.

Alex: Absolutely. So, if ever I get an email that can be misinterpreted - you can't pick up on the tone, you can't pick up - but there's a whole load of information that's missing. Very often, some of them sound really angry over email and then I’ll go speak to them and they’ll be really nice. You can unpack actually what's going on there with a discovery, so all that sort of chemistry can surface. So, in your opinion, how important is it for a client to be introduced to the team that's actually going to be working on their project?

Sean: I think it’s incredibly important. I think it's important because a client needs to well, het, we need to make sure that the people within the agency are a good fit, in terms of personality with the clients that they're going to be dealing with. If they're not a right fit, you know, we can put someone else on the team for whatever reason. And it's not that clients are being difficult, or we're being precious about our staff, just everyone that’s working on a project needs to feel that they're a team, and they’re one unit, both agency and client side. And you can't ascertain whether or not people are a good fit without them being introduced to one another and having a conversation. So yeah, I think it's incredibly important that clients know exactly who's working on their account.

Alex: To onboard a client, and to invest in the pitching process, that kind of thing - that takes the amount of time and energy from an agency and if you introduce the team to the client during that the early stage of that process, it just makes for a more successful onboarding process. The client sort of knows where they're going. So, in terms of awards, how important do you feel they are for a client when they're considering people to work with?

Sean: I think awards are often, in my opinion, wrongly seen as vanity projects for agencies. And whilst no agency should be in a business of just creating work that they want to win awards, they should always have the client’s best interest at heart. And if that so leads to them winning awards, if they create work that's meant solely for the client, and it leads to them winning awards - Well, that's great. But I think awards are an indication of an agency's creative acumen and that's something that a client should be interested in. Because the better the creative, the better the sell in my opinion. So, creativity in adverts tends to lead to better outcomes for clients as well. So, I think it's not directly relevant but the more creative an agency, the better results the clients are going to see in terms of growing market share, gaining more customers, improving their awareness, and improving their brand consideration scores and all of that stuff. I don't think a client should only work with agencies that have got bookshelves full of awards, but they should be looking to work with agencies that can prove they've got strong creativity.

Alex: yeah, and I think my view on awards is undertaking that 180-degree sort of turnaround. And so, we as an agency, what we do in the SEO space, there are awards. I got an email the other week saying, congratulations, you've won agency of the year award. Now send this check for 700 pounds, and I'd done nothing to win that, hadn’t entered any work and there was no value in that. But what I’d be able to do as an agency owner is then say, we’re an award-winning agency. But that’s incongruous with my personal values and so I wouldn't go down that route. I think in the creative space for a company like yours, there's some really credible awards that - you’ve got like Cannes Lions, everything down to like really top-quality publications that have a long history and pedigree in their industry. I think they're really valuable. But I think we're I've got to do with it is, I'm actually going to try and sit on as judge of your awards, to kind of this better understand the process, and then enter us into some awards. Because what I think has opened my ears to, I think, there's a mindset from a business that is entering award that have real meaningful value because it shows that there is an energy to perform, and deliver work that makes a real difference for clients.

Sean: Yeah, in terms of motivating your team, winning awards is fantastic.

Alex: So, in terms of an agency's values, how important do you feel they are for clients?

Sean: It should be incredibly important, you know, living your life should - you should live your life by a set of values, whatever they are. I think everyone has a set of values; we just might not agree with them. I don't think that you necessarily need to publish it on your websites, but your clients need to have a sense of who you are as an agency and how you treat your staff and how you treat your clients and your work ethic. I think it's important that your values are aligned with your client’s values, even if they're not explicit. And this is why I think it's so important that your team, you know, that you sit down with your clients, and you show exactly who’s going to be working on their account, so you can make sure that the people working on the account share the same values as those of the client.

Alex: Absolutely. I think, you know, values are an interesting topic. And I think the values that we have are the ones that we try and carry when no one's looking, and so they're not the ones we just put out to show people when we're trying to sort of win new clients. For us, there’s the toolkit that we will try and utilise when we're working with a client. It’s interesting locally, we had our values published on our website, and this local company had literally just copy and pasted our values from our website, and then put it on their own one. So, I believe as a business owner it’s really important because my personal values will bleed into the business, they'll then - that's the benchmark that the team has to try and then carry when they're looking after our clients. And that will be the experience the clients have when they work with us

Sean: I think values are more important internally than they are externally because, you know, your clients will pick up on your vibe. And as long as you know, like you said, filter down these values, and they're discussed, and they’re talked about within the team on a regular basis - I think that's more important than them being published on your website.

Alex: Yes, absolutely. So, in terms of working with an agency, how important do you feel contracts are? Do you think clients should sign-up long-term contracts? And what’s your view on that?

Sean: Well, as an agency, the longer the contract, the better. But from a client's point of view, that might not be the case. I think contracts are good because it's like a marriage. It shows a commitment, a long-term commitment to work together. Different agencies got a contractual relationship - that means that it affords them a bit more security, and then the ability to plan better, and run that agency more efficiently. The clients are going to benefit from that. I think if you've got a relatively long-term contract in place with a client, you are as an agency, more likely, I think, to be on the lookout for other opportunities to help that client with their communication objectives beyond what's detailed in the scope of work within the contract. I think contracts are a good thing. But I think there should be reasonable break clauses within that, you know, I don't think it's fair for an agency to tie a client up in knots for years with a contract that’s difficult for them to come out of if they're not happy with the work again, for whatever reason, because that just leads to bitterness, which is not good for either party.

Alex: Absolutely, absolutely. I think again, the contracts are quite salient in the industry that I work in, because sometimes what will happen is SEO companies that have really large sales departments, hard sell, pressurise clients into signing the contract, sign up the contract and commit them for 24 months, and then they’ve got the steer of that contract. So, what they don't need to do is to perform and deliver. So, the performance can vary, and you get clients that are contractually obliged for 24 months when they're getting nothing for it.

Sean: Yeah, which is madness.

Alex: But that break clause thing -

Sean: Yeah, a break clause I think is good. And also building in bonuses -an agency will get their set fee which is not touched. But if a client in that period of time, is seeing a growth in sales, or other metrics that can be measured: brand consideration, brand awareness - anything that can be measured that can be attributed back to the work that the agency has been doing, there should be a bonus attached to that as well. Because that once again creates - it’s motivating, it’s incentivising, and it reestablishes that sense of being a team working together.

Alex: Absolutely. To have some skin in the game, to have some sort of like, potential for the upside is motivating. Coming to a close, what agencies do you really admire that are operating in your space Sean?

Sean: No one? I’m joking. I would say because we do podcast production as well, we’ve started doing that over the last couple of years, I would say Somethin’ Else is a podcast, production company, who are doing some really good work. So, in the digital audio creative space, I would say a Million Ads, a company called a Million Ads. So, they do dynamic creative. I couldn't tell you how it works, but it uses clever algorithms and wizardry to be able to serve different iterations of audio commercials to different end users in real time. So, you record a batch of different options, different locations, different weathers, different price points, different behaviours, customer behaviours that customer might resonate with the listener - you've got all of those different variables, and you record them, you send them to a Million Ads. And then depending on where that commercial will be served, it stitches together different versions of the commercial, so it's even more relevant to the person hearing it. So, you and I could be hearing a commercial, and you could be up in Manchester, you could be interested in cars, and I could be interested in motorbikes and a commercial for a retailer could say, so you're down in London, you're down in Manchester, you like cars, you like motorbikes. And it's all aimed, it could be for the same brand, but it's just touching on points that are directly relevant to you, and that relevance leads to more engagement and more engagement leads to -

Alex: That’s like programmatic, audio creative delivery or something. Well, I think that's fantastic. Sean, this has been great. Where can people find out more about you online?

Sean: Come to our website, Radioville.co.uk or find us on Instagram, Twitter at Radio Ville.

Alex: Perfect. Thanks for joining me today.

Sean: My pleasure, thanks for having me, Alex.

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

Choosing an Agency is available for you to download from all the usual podcast platforms or find out more, here: www.AlexHolliman.com