This month I attended the Agency Hackers Good Agencies summit 2023. Although I’ve been to a few, smaller face-to-face events over the last year, this is the biggest face-to-face conference I’ve attended since 2020 and, boy, it was worth the wait.
Following the success of last year’s agency purpose conference, this year’s brought together a wide variety of agency owners and representatives to discuss all aspects of purpose, with sessions covering sustainability, diversity and inclusion, pro-bono work, the B-Corp process and more.
Following the initial welcome from Ian, and a discussion of common agency insights from 2023, the day proceeded with a couple of thought provoking keynotes.
Firstly, Teamwork’s Lubna Quraishi discussed key findings from the Agency Operations Report, which highlighted the danger of maintaining a purposeful business if your team is burnt out.
Next, Maddy Cooper from Flourish launched Marketing Declares - a cost-free guide to help agencies become more ethical and sustainable. Maddy discussed how to turn a profit whilst preserving your core values, and not being afraid to challenge a client’s brief, or not work with a client altogether if they’re not aligned with your ethos. A very interesting and insightful talk, which also introduced me to ‘Green Hushing’. Although I was aware of the concept of ‘Green Washing’, ‘Green Hushing’ was a new one for me.
Great choice of breakout sessions
After quenching my thirst and need for a natter over coffee, I was spoiled for choice during the rest of the day. Each of the breakout sessions had 2 or 3 choices, which brought the dilemma of which to attend. Although all of the options appealed, I wasn’t disappointed by those I attended. Accordingly, this isn’t a complete write up of the event but some interesting themes from the breakouts I attended.
What We Learned From B-Corp
Attendees were interested in B-Corp, with the majority on the path to accreditation if not already B-Corp businesses. As such, the audience were all agog to hear what Jenny Kitchen (Yoyo Design) and Helen Foord (ELE) had to say about their onward journey after gaining B-Corp accreditation.
For companies like us, who are in the (hopefully) closing stages of attaining B-Corp accreditation, this panel was particularly interesting. Accreditation is hard-earned. But the journey doesn’t stop there. It was inspiring to hear that B-Corp accreditation should not be considered a kitemark. Rather, BCorp status should be the start of an agency’s strategic journey, with BCorp embedded into the mindset of the whole team, with everybody understanding what this means for their day-to-day, both now and in the future.
Everyone at Spotless has been involved in the B-Corp process. Although the process has been a lot of hard work, it’s been a thoroughly enlightening and rewarding exercise. We’re looking forward to continuing the B-Corp journey for many years to come.
Balancing Profit and purpose
I really enjoyed the panel discussion with Maddy Cooper from Flourish and Nick Kuh from ASquared, which explored the tricky concept of balancing profit and purpose. Making ‘purpose’ a reality requires being brave. However, while making initial steps might be painful, the lasting message is that the rewards are there.
While both acknowledged that profit is foundational, each agency has preserved purpose in different ways. For Flourish, specialisation is the key, with a mission to help big corporations see the business case for aligning around the UN sustainability goals. No ‘green washing’, no ‘green hushing’. For ASquared, the goal is towards retaining a happy and committed team, by ensuring scope to work on projects that have 'Impact'. Being able to prioritise people, planet and profi, requires a balance between working with impactful clients (e.g. start-ups) with work for bigger organisations.
The Key to A Happy Team
This breakout saw Jaye Cowle from Launch Online discuss how her agency became known as the ‘happy performance agency’. After being introduced to autonomy, mastery, and purpose as motivation factors, by Daniel Pink’s book ‘Drive’, 18 months ago, Jaye’s perspective on happiness in the workplace changed forever. I’ve heard about this book, but not read it. It’s now on my ‘to do’ list.
Overall, this was a very inspiring session. I scribbled down lots of notes, in particular the resources that Jaye mentioned. Ideas rapidly flowed into my mind as I heard Jaye talk. The idea of toxic positivity was also refreshing to hear. I’d long considered that happiness is not reliant on ‘forced fun’ or people always outwardly smiling, but I didn’t have a name for this concept.
Key takeaways for me are learning to identify and focus on the elements of culture that most matter to your team - “the moments that matter” - rather than aim to implement a wealth of things all at once. The importance of training colleagues in the ‘soft skills’ (which are actually ‘hard’), as delivering happiness is the responsibility of everyone. Also, although you can look towards establishing ‘happiness metrics’, the key number for an agency is profit, as this is foundational.
The Importance of Transparency
I loved the transparency in this panel discussion with Zoë Ogden from Impression Digital, Stuart Ray from Modern B2B, and Jenny Kitchen from Yoyo Design. The session highlighted the importance of transparency at work, whether that is being transparent with your team, or with your clients.
The panel were quite candid about how transparency is handled in their companies, and the potential benefits it brings. building trust with clients or your team, ensuring expectations are managed, or enabling a boost to your agency’s credibility, which helps retain and attract top talent.
Overall, this was a very engaging session, with ideas towards achieving greater transparency, the need for potential guardrails in some situations, and the positive impact that honesty and transparency has on employees, client relationships, and business development.
The Good Agencies Awards
To conclude the day, the winners of the first ever Good Agencies Awards were announced, to recognise agencies that use their platform to positively influence their people, their clients or the planet.
#1: The Agency Purpose Award
This award celebrates agencies who put higher purpose at the centre.
Congratulations to Platypus Digital
#2: Agency Sustainability Award
Recognising agencies making progress towards a Net Zero future.
Congratulations to We Are Hattrick
#3: Inclusive Agency Award
Celebrating agencies that are harnessing a diverse workforce, and are committed to equality and inclusion.
Congratulations to Total Media
Thank you to Agency Hackers
Many congrats to Ian and the team for putting together this event. I know a huge amount of hard work goes into these things. A shout out again, this year, to Ian's daughter and her friend, who played a major role in the awards section, giving the winners beautiful plants, each chosen to reflect the award in question. I didn’t have such confidence and clarity at their age. Impressive stuff.
Overall, it was a very thought provoking event. It’s great to hear what other agencies are doing with respect to balancing purpose and profit, and ensuring all colleagues are onboard and feel part of the decisions and delivery.
It’s great to be back at face to face events, not just for the food, which was truly awesome. But I love getting back to meeting other like minded people in the flesh, and the richness of the conversations this affords.
Looking forward to future events. Onwards and upwards.
Ben is on hand to answer your questions.