10 Tips for Smaller Agencies Wanting To Win Big Clients

win bigger clients

I’ve had a number of conversations with smaller agencies in the last couple of weeks asking for my advice on how to win big clients. 

When I ran agencies, I was lucky enough to work with some big-name clients. Many of these were household names in the retail sector, and a number were significant seven figure accounts.  It doesn’t surprise me that agency leaders want to learn what the secret of winning big clients is; and how they can land some bigger fish themselves.

Naturally there are many advantages of working with bigger organisations as clients. Bigger budgets and usually greater volumes of work are available.  A client with a high profile can be used to promote the agency’s own brand and reputation. Larger accounts can provide some stability and security for an agency through contracts or retainer fees.  Stability that can provide solid foundations for fuelling more agency growth. Crucially, even winning one big client can be transformational for an agency. The power of association often leads to other clients and other – bigger – opportunities.

Working with large clients can also come with some disadvantages, however.  A big client can soon dominate an agency, both financially and culturally.  Growing the agency can actually become more difficult, as the demands of the key client always take priority.

Larger organisations mean more layers of people to work with and often more limited access to key decision makers. Competition for briefs is intense and formal pitches are far more common, longer and more time-consuming.  The larger clients often have procurement departments and can be incredibly price focussed and tough negotiators.

Moreover, once the relationship is formed, many agencies find that larger clients are sometimes more risk-averse. They can be less inclined to support creative work or strategy that challenges the norm and/or previously tested activity than a smaller business. Creativity can be become stifled and growth in other areas of the agency can stall as a result.



Whilst the marketing agency sector is increasingly competitive, arguably more opportunities exist for the smaller agency to win big clients now than ever before.  

Many larger companies are increasingly setting up their own in-house teams. Whilst that might be bad news for some, it does mean that opportunities exist for smaller agencies to work with these clients and augment their in-house capabilities. Whether it is a need for specific expertise, or for support with high workload, big brands are building rosters of smaller niche experts.

Indeed, it’s clear that the days when large enterprises would only work with giant advertising and creative agencies are gone. According to Campaign, Starling Bank has recently eliminated large agencies from its advertising pitch. The challenger bank now says it will now only consider small-medium sized shops.  A trend that will certainly continue as larger organisations seek more agile client-centric agencies.
If your’re a smaller agency looking to win big clients, here’s my 10 tips for landing those bigger opportunities…

  1. BE AN INFLUENCER – Whilst you might be a smaller agency, it doesn’t mean you must have a small profile.  Technology and modern media affords us all the opportunity to build a bigger presence online and have a greater reach. You just need to put the work in and make it happen. Many agencies understand this principle fully, but find the execution of this incredibly difficult.
  2. BE AN EXPERT – Building a profile and attracting bigger clients is easier if you are an expert in your – or their – field. Big agencies have a breadth of expertise and experience, but lack the ability, and sometimes the will, to become experts in a niche industry or product category.
  3. BE YOURSELF – Don’t focus on small, focus on the benefits that being small brings. Outside the box thinking, a different perspective, new processes and approaches. Big brands don’t want to look and sound like big corporate businesses anymore. They can learn from smaller businesses like yours. Show them how.
  4. BE FLEXIBLE – Don’t let your location or other factors inhibit your thinking or the growth of your agency.  Technology allows us to work from anywhere these days and project management tools can be used to keep teams and clients up-to-date. Even if that big client isn’t on your doorstep, it doesn’t mean you can’t work with them (and they will not work with you).
  5. BE A BIG THINKER – Just because you’re a smaller agency doesn’t mean you have to act like one. Be bold and think and act like a bigger agency. Promote your best work and your best thinking online through your own channels and on social media. Become a thought leader (especially if you have a niche audience or particular field of expertise).
  6. BE THE “A TEAM”Large agencies often win large clients then delegate projects to their “B” teams once the pitch is won.  Quality of work, and creativity in particular, can suffer. In a small agency, the entire team is the “A” team. Always strive to produce the best possible work for all your clients. A big client may be just as impressed with a high quality piece of work you’ve done for a smaller brand (particularly if it is highly creative and/or demonstrates effectiveness and ROI).
  7. BE AGILE – Often large agencies can’t react quickly to client requests such as additional resource because they need to get sign off from higher up. Large brands want agencies that can respond quickly to their needs. They are often frustrated by their own internal bureaucracy. Ensure you communicate your agile attitude.
  8. BE PROACTIVE – Nobody likes doing speculative work, but if you target a big client it could be your opportunity to make them notice you. If you have started to build a relationship with them, the opportunity to really engage may well come from a proactive proposal or piece of work that shows them you can deliver. Try and spot problems that big brands have and put some effort into thinking how you can help solve them. 
  9. BE PATIENT – Opportunities can come from smaller beginnings. If you have the opportunity to work on a one-off, well-defined brief from a big client; take it.  If you execute it well, further opportunities may come along and you can gradually establish yourself over a period of time.  
  10. BE TENACIOUS – Often smaller agencies win work from bigger clients due to relationships they establish elsewhere.  If an existing client you work with moves on to a different company, make sure you follow them and keep in touch. They may land a role in a big brand at some point and spot an opportunity for you to show off your skills.



Still want to win big clients? Of course you do.

Hopefully my tips above will help secure some bigger opportunities. In addition to these elements, you’re probably going to need 2 other ingredients; luck and perseverance.

None of the above factors are substitute for a little bit of luck. A chance meeting with somebody that works at a big client, a referral, a cold call that happens to find a client that has been badly let down that very morning. There is no substitute for this type of luck but perseverance and hard-work come pretty close.  

If winning bigger clients is your objective, don’t give up. But, of course, do ensure you continue to build a solid business around the clients you have now. Maybe you can make one of them into a big client yourself!



Agency Awards – the DESIRE to win

how to win more awards

What a fantastic evening we had at the Prolific North Awards in Manchester last week.  Congratulations once again to all the winners and, indeed, all the nominated finalists!

As a member of this year’s judging panel, I was blown away by the quality of the work and agencies on show.  I was also surprised, and OK I’ll admit it, at one point slightly worried, about the amount of work that goes into judging the award submissions. The judges really do put the work in!

I’d like to share some observations I made judging these awards. I’m sure none of these are specific to the Prolific North Awards alone, and all could be useful for any agencies entering any awards in the future.

Entering awards is an art form, and I now realise why a number of consultancy practices designed to help businesses with awards have been created in recent years.  N.B. Whilst Beyond Noise doesn’t offer this particular service, I do know a very good award consultant if anybody would like a referral.

Gareth Healey
Prolific North Awards SEO Agency of the Year - Candid Sky

If you have a great campaign/agency with some great results, you’re more than half way to winning any award you enter.  The other half of the equation is the award submission itself.  Sadly this is often where agencies often fall short.

Unfortunately, I know from experience that potentially award-winning campaigns/agencies have not been successful by falling at the last and most important hurdle; the entry form.

Some people may think the award submission is not that important and just a formality.  Others might leave it until the last minute and get a junior team member to ”coordinate” pulling it together. Either way this means the chances of winning the award are drastically reduced.

Why?  Very simply the answer is “time”.  As much as judges want to give every entry full consideration, when faced with so many, even a great campaign can easily be passed over if it is not supported by a great entry.

Indeed, rather than call them “entries”, our industry might respond better to the label of “written pitch”, because that is exactly what they are. The judge actually has two tasks at hand; firstly to try and understand what the campaign/agency is about, before then going on to decide exactly where it ranks amongst the other entries they also need to review.

I thought it was noticeable judging this years Prolific North Awards, that the quality of the award submissions from agencies involved in B2B marketing was of a consistently high standard. Perhaps a coincidence, but maybe a demonstration that B2B agencies are more experienced in communicating with business audiences. They certainly have experience in getting across complex issues in a simple and straightforward way.

Either way, its clear to me that whatever your reason for entering awards, you must have the desire to win, not to just enter.  Which means that  you have more work to do than just fill out an entry form and book your table.
Gareth Healey
Prolific North Awards B2C PR Campaign of the Year - Smoking Gun & Childs Farm

So how do you show you have the desire to win? Here’s my top 6 tips for agencies to think about when entering awards, handily constructed as a D-E-S-I-R-E acronym (well, sort of!)

DEMONSTRATE clear objectives. If you can’t clearly outline measurable objectives then consider whether it is right to enter this award. It’s the first thing judges will look for and evaluate you on.

ENTER the right award. Sounds obvious, but it can be tempting to enter the category you want to win, not the most appropriate category and one that you CAN win. If your entry doesn’t really fit within the category you select, it will be plainly obvious to the judges when assessing your entry against the competition.

SUMMARISE the strategy and output clearly and concisely. Don’t make the judges try and piece things together. They might want to, but they won’t have time. It might mean your entry doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.

INCLUDE additional information (if you are allowed). However, remember to keep it brief, easy to follow and impactful. A short video is better than 4 or 5 pages of copy of still images.

RESULTS and the return on investment achieved are critical (not optional) and must exceed the objectives. Indeed, like the objectives themselves, if you cannot clearly demonstrate the results and ROI, consider whether you should be entering at all.

EVERY award is a pitch. Its an opportunity to sell your work and agency.  Just because you can’t stand in front of people with a slide deck, doesn’t mean the award submission doesn’t need to “sell”. Indeed, it means it needs to work even harder. If given the opportunity to explain “why you should win”, do just that. Pitch your entry to the judges (don’t just write a sentence or two or add a client quote).


In summary, the winner is not always the agency with the best campaign.  The winner is the agency with a great campaign, backed by clear objectives and  clear measurable results. The agency who is prepared to put some real effort into their award submission and show they have the DESIRE to create an award pitch that will do justice to the work they have produced for their client(s).

The Prolific North Awards 2019

Banner ad for the Prolific North Awards 2019

It's nearly time...

Next week will see the winners of The Prolific North Awards 2019 announced in Manchester.  

I really enjoyed judging this year’s entries, and I’m looking forward to celebrating with the winners – and commiserating with the losers – over a few beers at the Victoria Warehouse.

Good luck to all the agencies shortlisted!

The Power of Mentoring

Gareth Healey

The power of mentoring is becoming increasingly recognised in modern business. Studies show that 75% of C-suite executives credit their success to being mentored. And 70% of mentored companies survive beyond five years, compared with only 50% of those who aren’t mentored. Other studies show that employees who receive mentoring are promoted five times more often than those who do not – five times! 

Gareth has been mentoring Tanya Nicol, founder of TravTech start-up TrippTee, for over 12 months now. They have formed a strong mentoring partnership, which gave Tanya the confidence to pivot her business idea and led to Gareth being named a finalist for ‘Mentor of the Year 2019’ at the National Mentoring Awards

Have a listen to Tanya and Gareth talk about their experience in this Podcast produced by TechManchester, the programme that facilitated their mentoring arrangement,

In this episode they discuss:

– The power of mentoring 
– Why they entered into a mentor programme 
– The first meeting and how they established a working relationship
– How the process enabled Tanya to pivot her business
– Being open to learning – what both the mentee and mentor can gain 
– How the relationship has evolved over twelve months

Read more about Gareth and Tanya’s journey and the power of mentoring here.

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