The Drum, Dec 23

By Sam Bradley

More agencies have begun to embrace a product-led market proposition in response to widespread client dissatisfaction with the classic agency service model. But changing how an agency presents, delivers, and bills for its services and expertise isn’t easy.

A major change in the direction of a business can disrupt the career plans and expectations of staff; existing clients on the roster might not want things to change; meanwhile, shareholders and investors will still expect commercial growth and a return on their involvement.

Even agencies backed by major holding companies, such as Interpublic-owned Huge, have found developing and bedding in a new service model a daunting and drawn-out process. For indie agencies, with less cash, time and fewer staff to throw at a problem like this, it’s even more difficult to.

For Leila Fataar, founder of agency Platform13, the opportunity cost was even higher. A boutique shop founded six years ago in London, the agency “creates cultural relevance” for brands such as Dr. Martens, Birkenstock, Guinness and Berghaus via content, creative campaigns or digital experiences.

Fataar, who previously worked for adidas and Diageo, had always argued that clients shouldn’t undertake such projects in isolation from their broader brand strategy. If they couldn’t “understand what’s happening in the world and understand how it’s impacting the people you’re trying to talk to,” she adds, they would not be successful.

Understanding the specific coordinates of a given brand amid the broader cultural landscape was essential, but too many marketers perceived of the world and their work as “brand out,” she says, cutting themselves off from the wider cultural context that marketing exists within.

“There’s a cultural position which only your brand can do. That’s what we can unlock. It’s a really important first step to anything we do,” she says.

The company had offered consulting services to help boost that understanding and ensure organizations could embed that knowledge. But they’d typically been arranged ad hoc or reserved for deeper client relationships.

A product-led approach, though, could enable the agency to reach new clients through its expertise in cultural positioning rather than only through external-facing projects. It would allow Platform 13 to work with clients only interested in the internal piece. A bespoke cultural positioning product meant that cash previously left on the table would suddenly be within reach.

Fataar sums up the proposition: “You want to be a culturally relevant brand? Something needs to shift internally. I have the experience; I’ve been doing it for 25 years,” she says.

Platform 13’s cultural positioning piece and its project-based marketing work are now presented as two arms of its business: P13 Depot, covering the latter, and P13 Inside Track, for the former.

Platform13 already used output-based billing. But making sure its cultural positioning offer was as “relevant” as possible to clients in an era where “many want to be the next Barbie… or are scared to be the next Bud Light” took time.

Fataar says she went to a circle of trusted peers and clients to discuss how the proposition could be honed. She asked: “What is it you actually need? Then I finessed and finessed and finessed.”

An initial bells-and-whistles launch was slated for October, but Fataar chose to delay until the new year, given the outbreak of war between Israel and Hamas that month. “I’m quite unsettled about what’s happening, and I’m trying not to be disrespectful by banging on about this new thing. So, I’m planning and low-key talking to current clients.”

As well as helping to fuel the agency’s “next phase” of maturity, she’s also conscious of the competition.

“A lot of agencies are also starting to work similarly to us when we launched,” she says. A product-led approach, though could give the business a means of differentiating itself and mark it out again as an agency at the forefront of culturally-minded marketing.

“I think there’s a fundamental shift in just how brands and the role of brands today may be different and should be different than maybe what they were even a few years ago,” says Fataar.

In response, she concludes: “Our industry is changing, and it needs to. Everybody needs to innovate.”


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