B&T thought it would be a grand idea to chat to one of the winners from our very own awards this year, so we sat down with The Hallway CEO Jules Hall to get his thoughts on whether the struggles are still real for independent agencies.
Congrats on The Hallway winning NSW Agency of the Year at the recent B&T Awards. What do you think got The Hallway over the line? Was it business wins?
It’s the total story, I’d like to think. The agency’s got great momentum at the moment – we’ve had a lot of new business wins.
What the clients have bought into is the service offering – the model – which is ‘Create & Connect’, and the benefit of that is data-driven creativity that’s optimised in real time. I think that need for speed, that need for quantified insights – data-informing decisions – is really critical. It’s how we’re able to demonstrate value and the impact of our work to our clients, and for me, that’s the biggest thing for marketing in this industry right now – demonstrating the impact of what it’s doing at a commercial level to their internal stakeholders.
Do you think some agencies manage to attract so much hype about themselves that awards judges get caught up in it?
I don’t know the answer to that. From our perspective, we’re in business communications – making sure the market knows what we’re doing is our core business. That’s what we do for our clients, and we’ve got to make sure we’re doing it for our ourselves as well. That’s why good agencies are good at making sure people know what they’re up to.
Is it harder for smaller independents to get recognised in the industry?
It’s a very, very competitive industry and there are some very big multinational networks that we’re competing against. You look at the number of independents in Australia that are of any size… there’s not many, and there’s a whole bunch of independents that have started and folded or not succeeded. So, looking at that evidence, it is tough out there, but there is opportunity too, and what we’re achieving and what other independents are achieving demonstrates that if you’ve got the right people and product and positioned it correctly, you will succeed.
You arguably don’t get the clients with the big budgets. Does that make it a little harder when it comes to showcasing work?
Bigger agencies are producing more work – they’ve got more out in the marketplace to be noticed. We’re not the biggest agency in town – we don’t have the same volume of output – which means that when we do have work that’s in market to be noticed, it’s got to be almost better than the work from an agency that’s got constant presence in market. So, in a way, it is tougher for us to compete.
Every piece of work we create has got to be bloody awesome – that’s the bottom line. If you look at some of the bigger agencies, there’ll be a whole bunch of work they’re doing that you just don’t hear about – stuff they’ve bashed out. You’re only as good as your last piece of work, and we’re accountable for what we’re putting into market, not just for our clients – it also impacts our own reputation.
What struggles remain for the independents? Are there still prejudices from clients?
I think it’s the opposite, actually. I think there’s a real hunger for independent agencies amongst many clients at the moment. Not every single client, but many clients.
The benefit clients get from independents is their owners are accountable for running them. You haven’t got an employee running the business – you’ve got someone whose livelihood depends on that business succeeding.
The whole industry has lost its focus on what it actually does. It’s the impact of our outputs that matter – that’s what we’ve got to focus on in the industry. There’s a whole bunch of clients that are seeing that entrepreneurship and hunger from independents and want to tap into that.
Is it harder for smaller agencies to attract and retain talent?
If you’ve got a good brand, no. For an independent agency to succeed, it needs to have a really strong brand – you’ve got to stand for something, you’ve got to have clarity on where you’re going, you’ve got to have the right clients in your portfolio to attract people, and you’ve got to have momentum. If you’ve got those things, you can generally attract good talent. The really important thing is attracting the right talent.
There’s something interesting and attractive about the independents to people that may have been at multinationals for a while, and some of them may be a bit jaded, but the people that make the switch and succeed at independents are the ones that have got that entrepreneurial drive. You’re a lot more visible and accountable at an independent, and that’s not for everyone – and nor should it be. The multinationals and other big networks need to have people that don’t want to start their own shop – they need people who just want to do their job and do it well in those environments.
We don’t have a problem with attracting people. I think the really important thing is making sure you’ve got a really strong alignment between the values of the company and those of the employees.
What are the plans for The Hallway next year?
There is some pretty exciting stuff happening behind the scenes that will become evident early next year.
From my point of view, we’ve absolutely nailed our product offering and positioning, so it’s about doing more of what we’ve been doing over the last 12 months. It’s working for us, and it’s working for our clients.