Backing hunches and changing the agency conversation

We’ve always felt that brand marketing is a pretty common sense thing – be interesting, challenging, eye-catching, authentic, surprising. Find ways to change the conversation that others are having about you. We’re sure most of you reading this article have either offered that kind of advice, or received it. But what’s easy to say to a client on a conference call is not so easy to do in your own agency – where the old adage ‘follow what I say, not what I do’ is as relevant as it’s ever been.

There are countless PR industry tales of companies who tried to change, to follow their own advice, and failed. But this is a success story. It’s about how we came to launch the new Octopus Group brand as a real statement on how we see the future of PR and marketing. And about how we did alter the conversation about our business, the service we provide and the value we deliver to clients.

A new start for Octopus Group (well, sort of).

Back in 2014, we were already a well-established, independent PR agency, working in technology and B2B. We had a great business, with great people and great clients. But we also had a few hunches about our model.

For a start, we’d noticed that clients were changing the way they spent money with us, and how many of our campaigns were reliant on marketing funding to survive. Our content work, for example, was being adopted strategically by field salespeople and digital marketers to drive sales activity, often without our involvement. In-house teams were getting leaner and seemed willing to use fewer suppliers for multiple marketing services, covering paid, earned and owned programmes. And showing ROI for traditional PR was becoming harder and harder, as the media landscape changed around us and our clients were under more pressure from their bosses. Basically, full service looked like it was on the way back.

So we decided to back those hunches and respond by trying to re-frame what the agency stood for and what it was going to be: marketing aligned, channel neutral, commercially driven and based on our long PR heritage. We settled on the idea of being an agency that would link brand reputation and comms to drive commercial sales success. And Octopus Group became the Brand To Sales Agency.

It certainly had a ring to it. But, as is so often the case in marketing and PR, the line itself was the easy part.

Brand To Sales meant completely rebuilding our business from the ground up. We productised our new marketing services portfolio. Re-organised our client delivery model. Learnt a new sales vocabulary. Retrained our PR account teams to become Brand Engagement Project Managers. Built our own Brand To Sales tools for pricing, planning and evaluation. (We even became a marketing technology reseller.)

Doing all that was tough, but the risks paid off.

In 2016 we hit record revenues and the phone didn’t stop ringing. We felt that we’d moved from being a PR agency with a different take on the world, to being a new kind of hybrid agency that did something genuinely different to others. We were suddenly bigger, louder, clearer and bolder about our agency in the marketplace. And now we arrive at this re-launch milestone, with proof that if you listen to clients and back your hunches with action, and if you are bold and brave, you can not only change the conversation, but start a new one.

We’ve got a theory that a good hunch eventually becomes a fact. That’s certainly what happened with ours. Brands are now moving faster than ever, with leaner budgets and smaller teams, who are looking for quick answers to complex commercial sales challenges, while battling with savvy zero-attention buyers. And they don’t care about the discipline, they just want results, preferably those that can be measured in dollars.

So there it is. A two-year story with a happy ending. And a lesson that businesses don’t just need a good PR agency. They need a Brand To Sales Agency.

N.B. A version of this article also appeared on Gorkana on 03/03/2017.