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The platform concept: 'Self-knowledge is very important, just like in real life'

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The 'platform concept' used by the Candid agencies naturally sounds great, but what exactly does it entail? Han Roode from M2, Jos Govaart from Coopr and Fabienne Jungerhans from Havana Harbor explain how it works in practice.

There are all kinds of ways agencies can collaborate, but at Candid, they use the platform concept. In simple terms, that means brands and companies have a particular marketing aspiration - they want to build their reputation, generate increased turnover, or expand, for example - and they collaborate with all kinds of specialist agencies to achieve this. Those agencies, in the ideal scenario at least, all belong to the Candid group and work on the client's problem together.

Full Funnel
Han Roode, Head of Strategy at M2: "It is about always wanting to resolve a 'full funnel' marketing communications issue the right way. That could vary from a positioning challenge through optimisation of the last click and everything in-between. You have specialists at nine agencies that you can consult and who can tackle that.'' He explains that they work according to the 'T-shaped' methodology, that is to say they first apply a broad marketing scope, after which people with the necessary expertise make a 'diagnosis'. "In practice, that means a client could have a query about use of media, but it could just as well mean the expert suddenly identifies a PR problem, as a result of which the focus of the assignment shifts more to a different agency in the network. It is unique to have and to be able to deploy all expertise inhouse.''

Passing work on
That sounds like a perfect strategy, but in practice, it may not be a natural course of action for an agency to pass work on? "You are correct, we have now reached the point where collaboration is gaining momentum. We are finding our way to one another with increasing ease. You see that the cultures of those agencies align well, they are all enterprising agencies with brands that can still develop as clients. The crux is the realisation that when you put a client in touch with a good specialist, you benefit from that as a group, everyone benefits.'' That is really a matter of time in his view. "You have to know what each of you offers and understand that when a client and a brand grow, we grow with them. It is important that you synchronise the culture of those agencies a little, after all, those cultures may appear alike, but one agency might have a slightly different way of dealing with clients and issues. One works very intensively with marketing departments and boards of directors, and the other might be a little more focused on the clients specialists. You really need time to get to know one another, the agencies as well as the clients.''

Self-knowledge
Jos Govaart, co-founder of Coopr, finds it very important for agencies to understand where one and other's expertise lies. "Self-knowledge is very important, just like in real life, you need to know what you are good at. In this case, it is important that you define that for yourself as an agency, but also that you know that of one another. Sometimes an agency is very good at dealing with strategic issues, for example, and sometimes they are excellent doers, but you can elaborate on that in more detail: which industries are you good at, what order size works well?, we are very busy with that at the moment.'' Govaart truly believes in that platform concept. "Full service agencies actually don't exist and you can really respond to 100 percent of queries this way. It works better than with American agencies that compete with one another fiercely because they do the same, despite the collective umbrella.''

Govaart thinks that basis is perfect, but it does require some serious work to bring theory and practice together. "As far as I'm concerned, the essence remains that you need to look at issues as a broad, independent specialist. Based purely on the facts, you need to be able to say: this calls for approach Y and that is something for agencies A,B and C. You need to adopt a rationale - and I have every confidence in that - in which you combine the agencies' entrepreneurship with the ability to tackle it together. That combination might be a challenging one, but that is where the opportunities lie. We need to work hard on good platform case studies and it can then work very well.''

Relationship between client and agency
Fabienne Jungerhans, Agency Lead at Havana Harbor, explains that a good partnership stands or falls depending on the relationship between the client and the agency. "If you truly engage in dialogue with one another and keep sparring, the marketing communications challenge comes to the fore automatically. If everything is in order, your agency knows what your client's ambitions are and you take that into account in your advice.'' That could also mean that you advise the client to speak to an expert from a fellow agency, she explains. "The nice thing about the platform is that you need never say no based on your own specialist services. To achieve a good fit, it is crucial that you are very familar with the expertise and the people at those agencies. Knowledge sharing is necessary to work that way effectively and it takes time. That is getting better all the time and it is an active point of focus."

As entrepreneurs, agencies are used to keeping as much work as possible for themselves, but if you want to enter into a long-term partnership in which you build together, then you both benefit from being open to the best solution. That sometimes means putting egos aside. "For example, there are times you produce beautiful work of which you are proud as an individual agency, but you are not listed at the top of the credits."

She describes an interesting paradox that characterises the platform concept. "As an agency, you are colleagues on the platform and can therefore provide feedback that is more direct and targeted than agencies that don't know one another - or don't know one another that well. But by retaining individual identities within Candid, agencies are not so blended together that there is no longer a competitive element to the collaboration. That is a very interesting dynamic for a client to be involved in. We keep one another focused and the quality of work high with that open communication.''

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