Episode Three, Choosing an Agency Podcast

Published on July 6, 2021 by Climbing Trees

Listen to the third instalment of the Choosing an Agency podcast.

Kathryn leads Copyhouse a FinTech and technology content marketing agency working with clients like Klarna. Kathryn’s no-nonsense approach to client qualification is refreshing and insightful. Listen now to discover why transparency and fairness are two of their core values and why they look for these qualities when working with clients too.

Episode three transcript

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 Kathryn Strachan from Copy House.

Kathryn: Hi, thanks for having me.

Alex: How are you doing, all right?

Kathryn: Yeah, I’m good. I’m good. It’s been a busy day here at Copy House, but it’s nice to take some time to speak with you.

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

Kathryn: Of course, so I am Kathryn Strachan. I am managing director at Copy House. Copy House is a content marketing agency specialising in technology and FinTech, so we work with some really exciting brands doing all sorts of very cool, very emerging technology. We work with everyone from Klarna to a client that does a biometric technology for airports, and kind of what we do for them or how I explain it, is that we support content across its entire lifecycle. So, we started at the very beginning with content marketing workshops that help brands dig into their core messaging, dig into their customer avatars, and their tone of voice. The back of that we normally do an SEO strategy, so the keyword research and mapping, and then we put those two elements together to create SEO optimised landing pages for your website. Once a website’s live, we then do an editorial strategy, and we do ongoing long form content. So, that could be white papers and eBooks, leadership articles based on expert interviews, or even case studies. Once the content’s live, we then do content dissemination via social and email, and wrap up with an impact report. So, we cover quite a broad, extensive package when it comes to content and SEO.

Alex: That sounds like a really sort of comprehensive approach to the production of content, rather than just sort of being a flywheel of low-quality stuff. It’s like real good quality, well thought out, sort of constructive stuff that can be utilised across a sort of significant time period.

Kathryn: Definitely, definitely. I mean, a lot of the content that we create is being created on things that don’t exist. I mean, on content that doesn’t exist at the moment. So, we can’t even just do it based on desk research, we have to go and do expert-based interviews and really get to know the brand that we’re creating content for and dig beneath, you know, the surface and find those really high quality insights, and then create content that, you know, nobody’s ever seen before. For example, you know, this morning, we got a new client who does VR and AR for home repairs. So, you know, it’s something that’s come out of the pandemic that nobody’s ever – I mean, the technology existed before, but it wasn’t being used in this way. So, it’s really exciting, very emerging new technology that we have the privilege to create content for.

Alex: Ah, fantastic. And what is the sort of stuff that you do on a day-to-day basis in your role?

Kathryn: Yeah, so I’m the managing director. So, I’ve got a really great team of very talented people who work with me, all full time, permanent employees but we’ve got a team of eight at the moment. So, we have three in house copywriters, we have a brilliant marketing manager, I’ve got my own personal assistant, which is very nice and helps keep me sane. And then we have an account manager who’s responsible for the client relationships and a project manager who’s responsible for the internal scheduling and systems and briefing and making sure everything runs efficiently and smoothly. So, my role is kind of to oversee all of that, and to keep the team you know, happy. My motto for this year is very much happy team, happy clients so I see it as my job to support my team. You know, get them the tools that they need, give them that support, but kind of to have a top-level overview of everything that’s going on, but to hire people who can do the job very well. And who’ve been trusted to get on with their job.

Alex: And so, is business good for you so far this year?

Kathryn: Yeah, business is booming. You know, we’re fortunate to be in the right sectors. So FinTech and technology, you know, haven’t been hit that badly by the pandemic. I think at the beginning, everybody kind of panicked and things were a little rocky there for a couple of months but then they started to bounce back. And I would say that since probably about December, you know, we’ve been growing really steadily. We’ve hired three people to the team this month, we’re continuing to hire, and we are going to be hiring a copywriter and a graphic designer, starting to expand Copy House services from just being SEO and content lead to also including design. So, that’s a really exciting development that’s going to be coming down the pipe for us in the next couple of months.

Alex: Fantastic. So, I think at the outset of this podcast series that we’re doing, what I wanted to try and do was to help clients when they’re selecting an agency partner to work with, and so some of the questions we’ll move on to now are sort of centered around that topic. So, in your opinion what can be done to improve the quality of work a client gets from an agency?

Kathryn: So, quite often with content marketing and copywriting, clients expect us to be mind-readers of sorts. So, you know, we’ve developed processes to get briefings and get all that information, but I think it’s important to be really transparent. Transparency is one of our core values, so we kind of expect this of everybody who joins the team, as well as you know, clients, that clients are transparent with us. They tell us what’s going on in their business and tell us what other strategies that they have in place, because content is kind of like a linchpin, if you will. So, we need to know about recruitment, we need to know about sales, we need to know about everything that’s kind of going on in the business. We do ask lots of questions but if you don’t, you know, if you’re not sharing that information, if you’re trying to hide it, or you know, not talk about it, then that’s problematic. So, I guess the best thing you can do is to be really transparent, to lay it all out on the table and you know, to be really open with where your business is, what you’re planning, what you’re thinking about, and, you know, meet us halfway. We will do a lot of the heavy lifting for you, but we can’t read minds, as much as we would really like to, we can’t. So, we need that help. You have to almost treat us like a new employee who’s joining you know, when a new employee joins, you can’t just expect them to know everything from day one, there has to be an onboarding process that we kind of go through, that allows us to learn and develop, you know, our knowledge of that client.

Alex: So, it has to – collaboration, that’s the key sort of thing. So, to share information – it’s really helped you do your jobs.

Kathryn: Yeah, and I guess, also having the time to collaborate. So, when we were a bit smaller, we used to work with smaller organisations as a result, and founders often don’t have the time to collaborate. So, now we tend to work almost exclusively with companies that have at least one person in their marketing department, because that person can then be our collaboration partner, you know, they have time and can contribute to the process. So, when we do work with companies that don’t have a marketing person, that only have a founder, we do have that discussion around, well, do you have time for this? Are you going to be able to be a collaboration partner for us? A lot of founders of startups are spread so thin, that they really struggle to do that.

Alex: Perfect. Okay, that’s really helpful. And so, in terms of pitching, what advice would you give to clients about getting the most from that sort of process?

Kathryn: I guess at the beginning you need to be really respectful of people’s time. So, you know, don’t ask 20 agencies to create pitches for you, I mean, all the agencies I know – and I know lots of them really care about doing a quality job. So, they’ll spend a lot of time and resource and money creating pitches, and if you’re just out to get a pitch to compare prices or are so undecided that you’re talking to 10 or more agencies – you’re really going to struggle to get the quality agencies to do those pitches for you because a lot of us have ways of qualifying leads. One of the questions, you know, that we always ask is, who are we competing against? And we look and see how many people we’re competing against, and then decide whether or not it’s worth us actually going after. So, by you know, asking lots of agencies to pitch or not being respectful of people’s time you actually risk losing some of the best talent.

Alex: Absolutely. I think the transparency from clients about the other partner agencies is critical. So as an agency, you can make a decision as to whether you decide to deploy your new business team to actually invest that time internally, because the cost for agencies to actually participate in a pitch can be really significant. So, for a smaller account it can still add up to quite big beans, but for something really meaningful it can take a lot of time and effort and resource.

Kathryn: Yeah, I mean, to appreciate it as a two-way street. So, your agency is also going to be eyeing you and deciding whether or not you’re a brand they want to work with. So, how you handle that pitch process, how you talk to them, the information that you give them, the information that you don’t give them, the amount of time required; all of these are going to be taken into consideration of whether or not that agency even wants to work with you. I know almost all agencies who will turn away work that is not well suited for them or where the end client doesn’t seem to be very nice person, or there’s other concerns there. So, if you want to get the best talent when it comes to finding an agency, you need to be respectful that it is a two-way process, and that how you behave during that pitching process is going to determine whether or not these agencies actually want to work with you. If they don’t want to work with you, you could risk losing some really great, very top-notch talent who’ve decided that an easier pitch process or process where they have more information or less competition or more visibility, is actually a better fit for their team.

Alex: Absolutely and in the current climate, most agency owners that I know are – there’s a rising tide with inquiries. And so, agencies are currently in a position where they can pick and choose what pitches they actually respond to, because it’s not like it was a year ago during the beginning of the pandemic, when some agencies were maybe a lot quieter than they were used to. So, pitch and tender for anything.

Kathryn: Yeah, but even during that period, sure, it may be quieter but it’s not always going to be that way. So, in a year from then, you know, if you still don’t have a good relationship with the agency that you’ve put through that really long, really awful pitch process, you’re then going to be a bottom client. So, you’re going to be ranked lower than clients who do treat them nicely, and those clients will get the best work and will get the projects completed the day they asked for them or the day after. They’ll get that quick turnaround; they’ll get some of those exclusive rights that are reserved for the best clients on their books.

Alex: So, then in terms of when new clients get in touch with you, how important is it for you to sort of qualify the leads?

Kathryn: Yeah, very important. I have a whole qualifying process that determines how we go forward and if we go forward at all. Then if they get a formalised proposal, or if they just get an email proposal – I have a whole process that helps me determine how much time I’m going to spend nurturing that lead. Because as you can imagine, we get a lot of leads, so I can’t spend my time on all of them. So, I have to find the best ones and to focus on those.

Alex: So, that qualification processes as part of that, how important is it to get a budget from a client?

Kathryn: Yeah, pretty important. And often you get, you know, when you ask, what’s the budget, people say, I don’t know. So, we normally give them a ballpark, because what I’m trying to see is whether or not what we charge is aligned at all. So, even if it’s roughly aligned, if they’re expecting content for pennies, that’s not really going to work. We try to keep our prices really reasonable; I would say we’re probably midfield when it comes to pricing so we’re trying to strike the fairest value because fairness is one of our core values as well. So, we want it to be fair for us, but we also want it to be fair for the end client. I definitely don’t want to charge somebody eye-watering fees but we’re not also going to be the cheapest on the market. So, I need to know if the ballpark that I give somebody is acceptable to them or if they really want to pay absolutely nothing. And then I’ll pass them on to somebody who can maybe help them or point them towards Fiverr, any of these platforms where you can get dirt cheap content.

Alex: Absolutely. We’ve got a network of freelancers, so that if a project is too small for us as an agency, we’ll look after sort of networking freelancers.

Kathryn: In addition to that, we have a minimum value. So, we have a minimum entry that all projects have to be above this certain, a certain level, or they’re not worth us, you know, spending our time to nurture and develop that relationship, to get to know that client, and you know, invest in a project that is going to be below that.

Alex: I totally understand why you would have done that. Because if you’ve got a team member with 10 clients at 1000 pounds a month or two clients at 5000 pounds a month, at the 5000 pounds a month level, they’re going to be able to do better quality work, work closely with the client and actually really immerse themselves in what their clients are doing, rather than moving quickly and vastly and maybe a little bit low quality work.

Kathryn: Yeah, definitely 100%. You don’t want to be managing hundreds of clients. So, you know, you want to keep your client number’s low, but you can only sell your time once as well. So, if you’re going to keep your client number low you need to find clients who you can do really high-quality work for and represent more of your books, than you know, perhaps when you’re a freelancer and you’re just taking every scrap you can get.

Alex: And so, in that discovery phase with the client, what are the signs that maybe an agency is not the best fit for that client?

Kathryn: Well, a massive red flag for me is if they have lots of internal stakeholders who can’t agree, because marketing is not you know – there’s not a silver bullet. There’s not one answer. There’s lots of different ways to do it. So, they kind of need to trust that you are the experienced professional and that you can guide them on this process. But if there’s no trust there, if there’s lots of debate and internal argument about actually what they should be doing and nobody actually has a final say, that makes it very, very, very difficult to actually propose a solution that will work. So, I guess that’s a major red flag for us. Also, we don’t work with clients who are not nice or maybe a bit toxic or have an internal toxic work culture. The most important thing to me is my team, my team really matter a lot so I’m not going to take on a client that could be toxic. That would impact our team and that would drag us down because we want to work with clients who allow us to do the best work, who trust us, who we can have really good relationships with. I need to protect my team at almost all costs, So the clients who have that internal toxic work culture are definitely not a good fit for us.

Alex: Absolutely. Anyone that’s worked in an agency will have experience with people that come from a sort of toxic background that can be quite bullying.

Kathryn: Yeah, definitely.  It’s a bit of a false economy because you take on a client who is super difficult, they then detract from all your other clients, because so much resource goes into keeping them happy. it drags your team down, people are upset, they’re miserable, they’re not producing good work, they’re being berated sometimes at work. I just won’t have that. I won’t stand for that.

Alex: Absolutely, absolutely. I think your work, your team will appreciate that a lot to be shielded from that kind of individual. I think the whole thing about marketing by committee is really interesting because sometimes what happens is, it’s like vegetables when they’re being boiled, all the nutritional value gets sort of taken out of them and you end up with this sort of pulpy mush, which doesn’t actually achieve anything. And taking on board too many internal stakeholder’s opinions, what you end up with is something that’s quite bland and diminished from how good it could be.

Kathryn: Yeah, definitely. I think there should be one person in charge, and that one person should probably be the marketing manager. So, the marketing manager should be responsible for listening to all these different opinions and then filtering out the ones that they actually want to listen to, the ones that they don’t and being in charge of the strategy. So, the marketing managers are responsible for leading that strategy forward, which requires collaborating with suppliers, identifying what suppliers are actually needed, but then also managing internal stakeholders so that you don’t get that pulpy mush. What you get is the best ingredients from within the company that creates a winning marketing strategy.

Alex: Excellent. Thank you, Catherine. This has been great. Where can people find out more about you online?

Kathryn: So, you can follow me on LinkedIn, or you can reach out to us on our website. We have a lot of great information on our website: case studies, blog, articles, and even upcoming events.

Alex: Perfect. Thanks for joining me today.

Kathryn: No problem. Thanks for having me.

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