Is it time to start your own agency? Asks Peter Bingle
11th June 2018
It would be churlish to deny that I enjoyed running a large (perhaps the largest) public affairs agency. I had a ball and I was only half joking when I described Bell Pottinger as being similar to Rome under Nero but much more fun...
It was therefore with a certain amount of trepidation that after more than ten years at Bell Pottinger I embarked on starting again and creating a small boutique agency focusing on helping clients secure planning consents. Many in the industry (friends and foes alike to be fair) felt that I was going to fall flat on my face.
On my first day of my new life I sensed that the doomsayers may be right. I had no idea how to book a taxi and the thought of restaurant bookings was terrifying. Perhaps it was after all time to hang up my proverbial boots? And then I discovered Toptable and Addison Lee and there was nothing to hold me back.
Fast forward to 2018 and my only regret is that I didn’t create Terrapin sooner. The exhilaration of running your own agency is quite special. In fact, there is nothing quite like it. You work hard, perhaps even harder than before, and yet you are happier and more content. It isn’t just about the money although the fact that client fees go into your bank account rather than somebody else’s brings a smile to the face!
Looking back at all those financial P&L meetings, debtors meetings and divisional meetings I simply don’t understand why more people don’t leave large agencies and take a chance. To quote WS Gilbert in Iolanthe : “In for a penny, in for a pound. That’s what makes the world go round!” Spot on ...
I’ve never been very good at playing the game. In politics I was a rebel and enjoyed being somewhat maverick. At Bell Pottinger I wouldn’t join the APPC. I’m told that detail is not my strength and yet I can be laser focused on hitting targets on time. In this regard, I have had the brilliant assistance of my partner Liz Williams who is superb at all matters technical, financial and administrative. Boutiques need to be well run. I can still feel our pride when Liz made our first VAT payment to HMRC. We celebrated with a bottle of wine ...
Moving from a large agency to a small boutique doesn’t mean reduced fees. Our fees are the same as before and in many instances they are higher. Clients want results and are (as they have always been) prepared to pay the right fees to achieve them.
The real difference between large and small agencies is the corporate culture. Bell Pottinger was different in this respect in an industry in which too many large agencies pride themselves on being over serious and dull. Unsurprisingly, therefore, Terrapin is all about doing great things and having fun doing them. I want to see smiles and hear laughter in our office as we achieve great things for our clients.
So I have become a strong advocate of small boutique agencies full of talented specialists who can deliver real added value. The days of large generalist agencies are surely over.
The wonderful Willie Whitelaw once famously said “It’s deja vu all over again” and that’s what I feel when I talk to friends who work for large agencies or indeed large corporates. There is just too much sameness. Routine becomes drudgery. Normality becomes an all-consuming dullness.
So be brave. Take the bull by the horns. Believe in yourself and break free. Do your own thing. Make your dreams a reality. Form your own agency. Trust me. It is a life changer. I can’t think of anything better!
Wrtten by Peter Bingle, founder of agency Terrapin Communications