An Analysis of The Drum's Top 100 Independent Agencies 2018.

There’s no denying the agency marketplace is crowded. True differentiation can be a challenge and inevitably, the way in which agencies end up describing their services can lack variety.

But how do the top 100 independent agencies in the UK measure up?

What words and phrases do they love to use?

How do they describe their value?

We analysed the LinkedIn ‘About’ text from each agency in the Drum 2018 Top 100 Independent Agencies list.

This is what we found out.


Everyone's a winner baby

Almost 25% of the top 100 are placing award wins central to their pitch. In some baffling instances it doesn't even mention what award has been won.

Awards can certainly increase credibility but this level of usage simply highlights how many awards are up for grabs. It’s an industry in its own right. If your agency has won something special then it’s OK to make some noise about it. If it’s a minor award, it’s probably not worth mentioning it.

In a similar vein, ‘agency of the year’ is used 8 times. In some cases this mentions the correlating award but in a few instances it just states the agency were voted agency of year. Voted for by whom?

You get the sense buyers of agency services will see award wins as indication of quality but they will do little do differentiate if everyone’s talking about them.


From digital marketing to marketing in the digital world

This is more a question of perspective on how business is changing.

The terms ‘digital marketing’ is used on 26 occasions. ‘digital agency’ is used a further 10 times. We’re on the cusp of the terms digital marketing/agency becoming obsolete. How would an agency that doesn’t have a digital offering continue to compete?

Even agencies that have historically made money creating physical experiences have been in the process of transformation over the past 5 years (Imagination’s XPKit springs to mind).

Eventually digital capabilities will be implicit. When this takes hold using the term digital is likely to date your offering.


Integrated… Is Unitegrated an option?

From a term on the cusp of being obsolete to one that I thought had been killed off years ago. I’m not suggesting that marketing is no longer integrated. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. Marketing has to be integrated.

My issue is using integration as a selling point. Having an agency that can integrate every single marketing channel would be unique but would also require a certain amount of scale. I don’t believe this is what’s at play here. I get the impression integrated is being used as filler and doesn't really mean a great deal.

Similarly, the term ‘Full Service’ is used regularly throughout the top 100. This phrase is often thrown into the mix for want of something more appropriate. It’s important to carefully consider what you truly want to express before using anything that could be viewed as jargon. Ask yourself: “Is there a better or more interesting way to get the point across?”


Strategic & Strategy

These two words tally up a total of 52 appearances. The issue here is overuse. They have both been used to the point of being meaningless.

Marketing, by its very nature, needs to be strategic. A campaign without any form of strategy would be madness. Even production companies, that have historically been to an extent non-strategic, are muscling in on the action. Everyone’s at it.

Agencies need to be strategic but the word alone is no longer a compelling sales argument. Your perspective and how you think is what differentiates. I’m not talking about process. I’m talking about creating content, marketing materials and a voice that give prospects an understanding of what it would be like to work with you. Demonstrate your ability to strategise don't just say you’re strategic. It doesn’t mean anything to anyone.


Creative Filler

I don't have a problem with the term creative agency. It does a job and succinctly categorises a segment of the agency marketplace.

My issue is with the word creative being used as sentence filler. ‘Creative design’ is a particular bugbear. Can design be uncreative? I feel creativity is implicit when it comes to design.

Another frustrating example would be something like this: ‘creative and strategic visual communication solutions’. I know what all of the words mean but this phrase isn’t telling me anything. This use of language feels, if anything, distinctly uncreative.

I take particular issue with the word ‘solutions’ (12 occurrences) too. In most cases, the work can be eliminated from the sentence with no loss of meaning. As marketers, we need to find a better way to describe how we solve problems.


Show me love

The word love is used by 10% of the top 100. This, I like. This is the exact opposite of a word like solution. It’s human. Of course, it needs to be used in the right context and has the potential to be overused but agencies saying they love what they do or that they’d love to hear from you is how real people speak. It needn’t be creepy or overfamiliar but it gives the impression you care and that’s important.


Collaboration is key

Collaborate/Collaborative etc. are used much less than I thought they would be which I’m happy about. What agencies do has and always will involve collaboration. It should be taken as read that you play nicely with others.


And finally

It’s fantastic to see so many agencies talking about results. The word ‘results’ appears 20 times within the group. Words like impact, success and value feature heavily too.

It’s so important for agencies to be clear about the value they deliver. It’s tempting to get bogged down with details about services and process but potential clients will be far more interested in the value you creative.

Thankfully agencies in the top 100 only mention process on a couple of occasions. It would be interesting to see how thing have changed in the last decade. Looking back to the end of the noughties, I’d imagine many more agencies would have had process central to their propositions.

It's comforting to know some things are moving forward.


Want to benchmark your proposition against the Top 100? Get in touch.