Power of Agency Brands: In Conversation with Crispin Porter Bogusky



“Break it better”

In the latest power of agency brand interview, Stephanie Nattu speaks to Helen James, CEO at CPB Europe, to get her expert advice on building a strong agency brand (spoiler: a strong agency brand is made up of the work, the people and how you communicate those things).

Creative agency Crispin Porter Bogusky’s brand is all about 3 (or 4!) Cs: “be curious, challenging, committed and connected.” Helen explains to us that the agency is a curious bunch who love getting deep into problems and understanding how to ‘break it better’, challenging its partners in a committed way, from a connected Stagwell network of bespoke teams.

Helen talks to us about the importance of building up your agency brand internally as well as externally and touches on how important it is for everyone in the agency to get behind the values of the business. Values, too, are linked to purpose – an important part of recruiting the right talent. We know that values and understanding what you’re doing, and how that’s going to make a difference is important to many and so having impact at the heart of your agency is critically important to CPB, to attract the right kind of people and build the right agency brand.

Having a strong point of view is really important in building a strong agency brand according to Helen. Just like agencies advise their clients, the advice from CPB is that in order to stand out and be memorable you have to have something say and that thing has to drive everything you do.

As it’s only got ‘more important to build a strong agency brand’, we also chat about how the audiences we speak to have grown which in turn means partners are buying agencies in lots of different ways.

You’ve got to sacrifice and commit

Helen James, CEO at CPB Europe

To find out more about what Helen has to say about the power of agency brands, watch the full interview:

Power of Agency Brands interview series

As the agency landscape continues to shift, change and become more complex and the industry grapples with a state of permacrisis, we set out to distil the power of agency brands: why every agency should dedicate time to developing their brand to cut through the noise, win big and just how they can go about building  it.

As part of this, we’ve been chatting to some of the top agencies in the industry to get their thoughts, insight and future plans. Our own Stephanie Nattu has interviewed agency leaders about their own approach to building a strong agency brand, why they personally think it’s important to build up their brands, which other agency brands they admire and more.

You can visit the Power of Agency Brands hub here to check out the other interviews.


Interview transcript

Steph: Hi, I'm Stephanie Nattu Associate Board Director and Business Director at Creativebrief. Welcome to another episode of The Power of Agency Brands interview series. Today we have Helen James CEO of CPB joining us. So tell us a little bit about your agency brand and proposition.

Helen: so agency brands are funny things aren't they? I mean I think so much of it is defined by the work you do, the approach you take, and of course the people that you have building your agency brand. I think for us it was really important when we started thinking about how to define our agency brand, and what was sitting at the heart of it, that we really started from how we engage with our partners and the work that we do. So we sort of treated it a bit like a client brief, we went back to what's the work we do and what are we really good at and we built from there. I think the thing we identified by looking at previous work we'd done over the last few years was we'd really been effective when we've worked with brand partners to help them optimize something to help them improve something that maybe wasn't working in the way it could be.

We really sort of focused it around that and the thing that we talk about is ‘break it better’, that's our proposition. And that's made up of two pieces really: the break really does sort of talk about the process that we take so we will sort of do an audit an analysis of the different phases of the marketing mix or the journey or whatever sort of model that marketeer uses and we'll look at which bit maybe isn't working as well as it could and then we'll focus in our energy on that piece. We'll really sort of look to break that down and build it back up while working in partnership with our brands but then everything really is in service of the better. So everything we're doing is focused on how do we achieve better standout better distinction better engagement but ultimately better ROI for that brand. We talk about with our partners break it better.

Steph: What makes your agency unique in three words?

Helen: Three words are so tricky isn't it and I've done that typical agency person thing of thought about the three words like they've all got to have the same letter. So for me curiosity would be the first one, I think we are a really curious bunch I'm sure some of our clients think we're really nosy at times but we love getting deep into problems, we love really sort of getting to the nub of what that brand's about, what that problem is about and really understanding it to then be able to come up with a different solution. The second I think is challenging, so for us and I wanted I'd originally started this with provocative or provoking but really I think the thing that our partners talk about is the way that we constructively challenge them and actually I'm looking for our partners to challenge us as much as us to challenge them because I think if you get that dynamic right and it's done in the right way you can really push each other. The third one was committed and you can ask any of our team and our agency partners that we really are with our clients and our team till the end we're standing next to them to help them get it over the finish line and beyond and I think it's something I feel really sort of personally strong about in terms of how I want our relationships to be built with people. And the final one I told you that I'd sneak another one in but the fourth that I couldn't sort of step away from was connected. I think the thing that I love about CPB is that we are part of Stagwell and we're a different agency network which I'm sure loads of people say that but we've got really good relationships with the likes of Assembly in the UK, PR partners, media partners. We're able to then sort of build bespoke teams which aren't like these mad really sort of fat teams with lots and lots of people within them but they're built bespoke so we can offer that capability, but we do it through human relationships where we actually all like and get on with each other and I think that trust when you're looking for definite capabilities coming together is really important. So I would say curiosity, challenging, committed, and connected.

Steph: Thank you four Cs I like it. And why is it important for you to continue to build your agency brand?

Helen: I think it's only gotten more important and will continue to do so and I think there's a couple of reasons for that. Firstly I think the audiences that we're speaking to have grown. I think partners are buying agencies in lots of different ways and so that means not only are you sort of dealing with the media and you're dealing with sort of PR and marketing but you're also looking to build sort of your brand in other channels in different ways. So I think that's really really important and will only continue to sort of evolve and change. I think the second thing is internal brand or speaking to your people, your clients and your future people and clients has only got more important I think values is something we know from working with brand partners that values are so important to consumers and I think that stands the same within what we do in our audiences. It's really important that you've got that strong brand behind you so that people understand, what you're about, what your point of view is and how you should live I suppose according to that.

Steph: In your opinion what is it that makes up a strong agency brand?

Helen: I think there's some things that are stable stakes. So the work, the people, how you communicate those types of things. I think for me the important ones really are having a point of view. I think you know just like we advise our clients, you have to in order to stand out in order to be memorable, you have to have something to say. And I think I would argue that that thing has to then drive everything you do, from the inside out. So it's so important you've got that perspective, you're able to then get it out there and have different voices, leaders, opinion pieces that are delivering it. Nut I think also not only sort of that point of view but I would argue that especially for agency brands and I suppose in a B2B context you want to be living that proposition and that brand every day so it can't just be something that lives in a in a Google doc now it's got to be something that you're applying to your initiatives, you're applying to the work that you're making, you're applying to your client partnerships, and you're applying to your recruitment policies. It's got to be sort of coming through everything you do because as we know there are so many different touch points and so many different ways that people interact with your brand it's really important that that's authentic and true in every sort of single way.

Steph: Do you think there's like a difference from say 10 years ago building an agency brand compared to today?

Helen: Yeah 100% and I think there's a couple of factors affecting that so definitely the thing we talked about earlier in terms of capabilities and the fact that the capabilities have shifted and agencies are able to do so many more things and I think you know clients and client partners are asking for so many more things and we're trying to recruit different shaped people to bring difference within our space. But secondly I think it's the importance of values and then connected to that purpose. I think again we know that Gen Z, Millennials, and probably who have the next ones Alpha those values and understanding that what these people are going to be doing is going to be making a difference and has impact at the heart of it is critically important so we have to make sure that we're representing that work that we do and the impact that our work can have it's not just about the shiny creative cherry on the top. We've got to give people a reason to want to come to us both from a brand partner point of view but of course from a talented people point of view as well and that's the shift I think that we've seen over the last 5-10 years.

Steph: Yeah and not even in our industry right just generally across the board the world is so much more purpose led and driven it's got to sort of shine out in the workplace too isn't it

Helen: yeah

Steph: and I wondered what would be your number one tip to other agency leaders to help them build their agency brand?

Helen: I think probably the thing we all say a 100 times a day to our clients is you've got to sort of sacrifice and commit. You have to develop that perspective, develop that point of view to have memorability a distinction in your marketplace and to stand out for something you've got to then sort of have a point of view and make sure everything ladders up to that. Now don't get me wrong there's always going to be occasions where it's not quite as black and white as that but I think if that's your north star, that's where you're heading, your team understands that, your clients understand what you're trying to achieve together I think it really does bring people together. And it means that you have a guiding light that's pointing you in the right direction, it's too easy to say 'oh we just do this thing here and this thing here' and all of a sudden there isn't a coherence I suppose to your proposition and to what you're trying to tell people about your brand so I think I would say overcommit and sacrifice.

Steph: What are your plans for the rest of the year and next year in terms of building your agency brand?

Helen: For us we do again to take it back to how we work with our clients we have an always on BAU plan calendar that we activate again so that's thought leadership, it's opinion pieces, it's points of view, it's content that we're creating to add value to hopefully our community and our clients and our partners. And then we have like tent pole moments that we plan throughout the year. So again wanting to make sure all of our marketing and our communications add value, we run events so we've just run an event which was mapped around London Fashion Week with Jess Cartner-Morely and that was all around fashion and feminism and how that was really shaping and influencing what brands would do, and we've got a webinar coming up in a couple of weeks time which is all around the joy of unpredictability and why marketers should lean into unpredictability and that's a webinar we're running with our CSO and also with a neuroscientist so we're always trying to bring in people from outside of our industry as well to give a different angle, perspective, point of view which hopefully will only make it richer. So that's the two strands we're looking at for the rest of the year and then of course we've always got op heads going out, opinion pieces that we're working with the likes of Creativebrief on to make sure that we've got hopefully a real diverse range of people from the agency giving a perspective and a point of view.

Steph: Which agency brand do you most admire and why?

Helen: This is a tricky one but I think and I stepped slightly out of creative for this I hope you don't mind but I'm going to say Good Stuff. So Good Stuff are an agency and a brand that I've known for a long time I worked with them way back when but I've always admired them as a very unconventional media agency and I've always been impressed by sort of the way they want to innovate within the space and aside from that as everything we've been talking about everyone I meet from that agency I like and seems like a good person. So I sort of feel like they also live their values which are very much about human relationships and getting the job done in partnership which I admire and I like.

Steph: How important are ESG Frameworks when thinking about building a strong agency brand?

Helen: I think they're really important now and only getting more important I think we've definitely seen over the last five years or so a shift both in terms of recruitment and speaking to talent and what they're looking for and how they expect to see the work that you're doing within sustainability and ESG but also with brand partners you know sometimes even before you've got to a pitch, they want confidence and commitment from you to see the work that you're doing within this space. I think there has been a shift over the last 10 years and lots of agencies have invested in becoming B-Corp which is brilliant but I think this is something that's only going to get more important and actually I feel really encouraged by the push by the industry really to really make a difference here and to hopefully make sure that we all get to a level. I mean we know that values are so important to Gen Z and I'm sure Gen Alpha and of course Millennials but I think really how we dramatize and demonstrate those values in what we do and the actions that we take is incredibly important.


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