International footprint

Global opportunities can come at any stage in an agency’s life cycle and they can sometimes be unpredictable. A big client might say, in essence, you’ve got to be able to operate in Germany and France in three months or you don’t get our business in those markets.

Alternatively, an agency might be getting so much work in a certain territory that actually it’s a sensible option for it to have people on the ground there servicing clients.

For smaller, independent agencies it can be tough to know what to do. They don’t have the luxury of leveraging the global footprint of a Publicis or WPP, to go and camp in a sister agency premises for as long as it takes to get an office up and running,

However you look at it, most kinds of international expansion will require financial investment of some sort, whether that’s externally obtained or self-funded internally. Where that expansion is client-led, time is often of the essence, which means obtaining institutional investment isn’t usually an option. Fortunately, this is where those big clients offering those global contracts can actually bring practical support to bear.

This may sound unusual but in reality, it isn’t. That might be because it’s not often a topic of conversation in our industry’s media. Yet most clients are pragmatic – they want the best work and know that they might lose out if the agency they have come to trust can’t grow to meet their needs.

Assuming a client is making positive noises, embarking on a conversation about building some sort of partnership arrangement opens up clear benefits for both businesses. And where an agency has invested in developing relationships with the procurement leads of its clients, it’s that much easier to open those conversations up. As a former agency CFO, I made it my business to nurture those contacts and I know from experience that clients are usually open to talking about providing support.

While there are plenty of upsides to client-funded international expansion, it’s also sensible to assess all the risks. Having set up a local office to service a client, only for that client to resign their business can spell disaster. Plan well, because as well as the business repercussions, staff will have started to build lives locally.

Remember too that client-funded expansion is not the only route to growing overseas. If the business opportunity is there but the client won’t support the agency setting up, partnering with another non-competitive agency or business that you know well is a useful first step and way of testing the water before investing in building any infrastructure.

Talking to our agency clients, we know there are currently plenty of opportunities for British businesses overseas. They appreciate our talent and quality of output, so if the opportunity presents itself, why wouldn’t you explore every means to seize it!

Deepa Shah

Post by Deepa Shah

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