I spent the first 20 years of my career on the agency side (Grey, Interbrand) and then I became a client (Virgin).

Boy, do I have a whole new perspective now.

It’s like that movie “Switch” by Blake Edwards

Don’t know if you seen it, but this man womanizes one too many women and is shot by his angry jilted lover. Instead of dying, God sends him back to earth in the body of a woman to see what it really feels like to be on the receiving end of all his wrong doing.

The body he inhabits, by the way is Ellen Barkin’s body ( not too shabby).

Anyway, it’s full of lots of funny sight gags and some touching insight into how the “other half” lives.

I feel lucky to have this unique, albeit somewhat different, perspective now too.
After almost 3 years as a client, I’ve sat through a fair number of pitches and worked with all sorts of agencies (e.g. advertising, branding, web, and research) and I think I’ve gained some valuable insight.

Most of this is actually blindingly obvious and probably things that you already know. But the question is, are you following these principles? Or do you get lazy, or tired, or scared and revert back to bad behaviors?

Here’s my advice for Agencies (from someone who’s been on both sides. Note: these are my personal opinions- they don’t represent a formal Virgin point of view:

Top 5 Agency Mistakes

1. Stop showing your “proprietary” model. You may think your pyramid,triangle, hexagon, trapezoid is unique. Trust me, it’s not. Everyone’s got a shape. The more important thing is how do you think? And the best way to demonstrate this is to actually come in with a point of view about my brand. It can be way off base. It doesn’t really matter. As long as you’ve done your homework, maybe some man in the street research, and made some logical assumptions. The important thing is to show (not tell) how you get from point A to point B.

2. Choose the right team to bring to the meeting. Don’t bring people who genuinely don’t like each other. You may think it doesn’t show but it does. After meeting one agency, we weren’t ready to hire them…but we did seriously discuss pitching in for their group therapy. The dysfunctional nature of the team was that obvious. Also don’t bring too many people, and people who don’t have a role in the meeting. It’s a foreshadowing of large, ineffective and expensive project teams to come.

3. Once you win the business start right away. It’s like having a great date and then having to wait days and months to see each other again. It takes the buzz off the romance. The contracts and terms need to be worked out, but don’t let that get in the way of harnessing the positive chemistry and beginning to work together. The day after you get the good news, take the client to breakfast or drinks, and just start talking and maybe even a bit of back of napkin sketching.

4. Once you pass the honeymoon period don’t disappear. I understand the economics of many of the Agency pricing models. It certainly doesn’t make financial sense to maintain 100% of the Creative Director’s time as the project moves from the idea to implementation phase. However, that doesn’t mean they should become a ghost. There are low cost ways to keep in touch. Give a call from time to time, drop in for lunch etc. It’s by staying in touch when you are not really needed that you prove loyalty and stay top of mind for the next project.

5. Ignoring your own internal culture. Many brands like Virgin have strong internal cultures. We gravitate to Agency’s that also do. They have a good time, don’t take themselves too seriously, and celebrate their people and their culture. This could mean sending out fun and inexpensive tchotchkes, sharing interesting facts about their own people on the walls or website (even in the bathroom stalls) and generally putting some action behind the overused assertion that “our people are our greatest asset/differentiators”. Often I’m invited to Agency celebrations, and most of the time I can’t or don’t go. But it’s important to know that they are happening. Because usually that means they are attracting and keeping talented people. And that’s good for everyone.

That’s my point of view. What’s your twist?
How do Agencies succeed or fail on your eyes?

Previous articleBecoming Digitally Fluent
Next articleWays to Be a Better Client
Julie is the Founder and CEO of BrandTwist, a brand consultancy that helps entrepreneurs and corporations build stronger, more profitable brands.


  1. Thanks Julie. These are great reminders, for all of us. I wonder what the twist for the client side would be? ,)

Comments are closed.