Much has been discussed and covered about the rapid change of agency models. The pandemic certainly accelerated some uncomfortable decisions, but most shops, big and small, were well on their way to figuring out how to remain relevant for brands and clients.
Determining the best way forward is, at its worst, an uneasy exercise that reveals shortcomings. At its best, a more forensic look at how an agency business runs can result in an opportunity to regain focus and, critically, business momentum.
In Colle McVoy’s case, its reinvention is far from lip service and resulted in the MDC Partners shop reeling in an impressive 11 new brands to its roster since March, including AccuWeather, Deluxe Corporation, Safelite, Schwan’s Home Delivery and U.S. Bank. The agency also expanded its work with existing clients like 3M, Land O’ Lakes, Target, UnitedHealth Group and others.
The success, however, was born from a clear need for change. According to Colle McVoy CEO Christine Fruechte, 2019 marked the first in 12 years that the agency didn’t experience growth, calling it a “significant change.”
“Personally, as a leader, I took that as a moment of defeat,” Fruechte said. “I did a lot of self-reflection. We surveyed employees and talked to clients and it boiled down to a need to accelerate our speed of transformation.”
At that moment, everything was up for grabs, including determining whether or not the agency’s leadership was cast in the right areas, how the shop was structured and how that enabled behaviors that slowed down processes.
To help sift through and manage the transformation, Colle McVoy hired Jessica Henrichs as managing director and head of client growth last November and Tracy Richards to head up talent operations. According to Henrichs, several changes were critical in moving the agency into a new direction.
The first change was behavioral, learning methods on how to move faster, communicate more effectively. The next was divvying up the organization into four more nimble teams, restructuring days to avoid excessive meetings, allowing for more focused work time and, finally, process changes in the briefing and new business processes.
“It sounds small, but it’s revolutionary in the rigor in how we’ve structured our days,” Henrichs said. “That allows us to be very efficient in organizing the work against each of these four teams to deploy resources.”
The structure of the teams varies. One, for example, engages with the agency’s animal health, agriculture and food client work. Another, more design-heavy, hones in on the Colle McVoy’s retail portfolio.
“So often at agencies, you work on one thing and you can get very siloed,” Fruechte said. “This is a more organic, evolving model that’s not as linear as you might find elsewhere like having a financial team, or health care team. We looked at the brand and creative leaders that overlapped to find the synergy.”
Colle McVoy worked with consultancy AgencyAgile, adapting and customizing workshops to get to a more efficient model. But where the changes bore the most fruit was in business development. The agency has a staggering 91% win rate over six months in 2020, according to Henrichs. During the pandemic, the new model enabled the agency to pitch six pieces of business—albeit virtually—at the same time.
Two key components to this success were mainly twofold: leading pitches in a more data-led fashion and a cohesive internal culture.
“I probably underestimated how much culture can play in the success of an agency before coming to Colle McVoy,” Henrichs, who spent several years at Digitas agencies, said. “The people are close, we trust each other, and you need that to get to great ideas. In new business, in particular, clients remarked that we show up differently. They can feel the rapport and how much we like each other, and I haven’t experienced anything like that.”