What is Agency Hackers?

Agency Hackers lets you meet other people who run agencies like yours.

Running an agency generates all kinds of feelings and pressure. And the only people who understand what it’s like are your fellow agency leaders.

Not your team. Not your friends. And probably not your partner.

I’m Ian, and I started Agency Hackers so you can meet other people in other agencies. You can learn from them, make friends with them and get support from them. 

If you come to an Agency Hackers event, you can meet other agency owners and leaders and talk confidentially about what’s going on in your business – and in your head.

Who comes to Agency Hackers?

It varies massively – but the typical Agency Hackers person runs an independent agency with a headcount of between 50-80 people, and revenue of £3-6m.

Some are smaller – four or five people. And some are larger – 200+ people. You are welcome to join us whatever size you are and wherever you are in your journey.

What unites everybody is that they are looking for ways to grow their agency and do great work, without hauling themselves and their team over the coals.

A lot of people see the name ‘Agency Hackers’ and presume it’s aimed at scrappy start-ups working out of a growth accelerator doing growth-hackery things.

It isn’t. (Sometimes I wish I’d chosen a different name, but hey ho!)

What kinds of agencies come to Agency Hackers?

It’s a stir-fry of advertising agencies, creative agencies, e-commerce agencies, PR agencies and more. We try to mix it up, because if it’s too homogenous you don’t learn anything.

How can I speak at Agency Hackers?

Agency Hackers lets agency leaders mix with, learn from and be inspired by people running similar businesses.

This means we’re always looking for interesting people who can speak at our events – whether they’re live events like Agency Summit, or online events like the webinars we run for our members.

What do you look for in a speaker?

Agency Hackers is about the actual craft of running a business. We look for authentic, crunchy war stories – told by people who run agencies themselves.

So great topics might be:

  • An interesting mistake you’ve made – and what you’ve learned from it.
  • New and original things you’ve done (or are doing) around marketing, culture or operations.
  • Wins or challenges that others can learn from.
  • War-stories about transformation or agency change.
  • Controversial or unusual opinions about running a business.

What topics DON’T you like?

We don’t really go for talks that are broad, vague, wishy-washy, or too “high concept”.

Agency Hackers is about the ins and outs of actually running an agency – it isn’t concerned with the health of a particular industry or technology. So we don’t look for talks about “the future of advertising” or things like that.

We also don’t like chin-stroky topics about human behaviour, global mega trends, or theoretical wisdom. If you think it would make a great TEDx talk – it’s probably too broad for Agency Hackers.

Talks that DON’T work for us would be:

  • How AI / blockchain is disrupting advertising and marketing
  • Is the smartphone making us stupid?
  • Is social media a force for good?

Who can speak?

Generally, we look for talks by people who are currently part of an agency business.

We do sometimes have talks by consultants – people who make their living selling stuff to agencies. But they’re less common.

We’ve just found that agency leaders prefer to hear from people who are “living it” like them.

What kind of speaking formats are there?

We have lots of formats – so if you’re not a natural public speaker, that’s no problem. We will work with you to find one that lets you tell your story in the best possible way.

Formats include:

  • Traditional stage talk with slides
  • “Campfire session” – where you take part in a small discussion with interested delegates
  • Fireside chat, where somebody asks you questions
  • Webinar – where you either present or you’re interviewed

They tend to be about 20-30 minutes long.

Do you pay speakers?

Not normally, no.

Let me explain. Right now, we don’t really have the budget to pay speakers. We do cover travel expenses and put people up in hotels when they are travelling a long way.

It’s not like I’m religiously opposed to paying people to speak. It’s probably something we will look at in the future as Agency Hackers grows. But for the most part, agency leaders seem happy to come along and share their wisdom with a keen and interested audience.

It is actually quite rewarding to share something that you’ve worked hard on with a room full of people who are super-interested in what you did.

There’s also an editorial reason, I guess.

A lot of the people who expect a fee make their living on the speaking circuit. That’s cool, but they normally aren’t right for Agency Hackers because we mostly choose agency leaders – not “thought leaders”.

Professional speakers tend to have slick, polished talks – but they don’t have that gritty experience we look for. (And they often want to talk about the abstract themes I’ve listed above that we avoid!)

So I’m really grateful to the people who speak at Agency Hackers – the events would absolutely not exist without them.

That’s me – pale, male, hopefully not that stale. I don’t really speak at Agency Hackers. I leave that to agency leaders.

What is your speaker diversity policy?

Look, nobody has ever actually asked me “Ian, what is your speaker diversity policy”?

But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, so here goes.

Basically I want to do the right thing – but I don’t always know what the “right thing” is.

Diversity means lots of things. To me it means gender and skin colour. Diversity is something I’m mindful of. Every time I run an event, I look at our line-up and think: do we have enough women? Do we have enough people who aren’t white? 

Often, we don’t. Not really.

I run Agency Hackers by myself. I think I have a very good eye for a story, and that I’m the best person to decide who speaks at Agency Hackers.

But I also understand that what this might actually mean is that everybody who speaks ends up looking like me. Which I don’t want.

Until now, only 25% of our speakers have been female. Is that okay if that accurately reflects our industry? Or should I aim for 50% to be equal?

What about gender?

Right now, most of our speakers are white men in their 40s.

Looking back over our events 75% of our speakers have been male. Not good, right?

Perhaps one point of view is that this sausage party is just reflective of our audience. According to research by the Wow Company, only 23% of agency owners are female.

So maybe we’re just accurately reflecting our audience.

That seems to make some sense to me. If most agency owners in our audience are white men in their 40s, perhaps we’re just always going to have more of those kind of people speaking?

But at the same time, perhaps that a shit argument. Maybe you should always aim for 50% women speaking – because, well, 50% of people are female.

I honestly don’t know.

I’ll do one event one month with almost all male speakers – and then another event the month after with almost all female speakers. Over time it balances out, but if you come to the one with all guys you’ll (not unreasonably) think that I don’t care about giving women a platform.

Here’s another problem:  most of the time when people speak, they approach me. I don’t have one email for men and another for women. I try to judge everybody on their merits.

Every time I add a woman to the line-up, part of me worries she will think she’s only there because she’s a woman.

Some people even say: “Hur hur – tick the right boxes do I?”

They are joking, but they aren’t. Ugh.

People sometimes ask: “What are you doing to encourage more women to become agency owners?”

Answer: nothing. Here is why.

  • Firstly, I don’t really want to be in the business of telling women how to run their lives. There’s already a lot of men who do that and it’s not a great look.
  • Secondly, remember that I am a man who doesn’t run an agency! Imagine if I made it my business to go around lecturing women on all the reasons they should start agencies. Bit man-splainy?
  • Thirdly, let’s not forget there’s nothing inherently holy about running an agency. Yes they can be rewarding and fun – but they can also be a proper pain in the neck. I’m sure one reason some women don’t start agencies is that they’re actually too smart. Maybe they’re actually starting other types of businesses instead.

And what about race? 

As far as I know, there are no industry stats on what percentage of agencies are run by people with black or brown skin.

But looking back at our previous line-ups, yep – they are very white! That’s something I’d like to change. But I don’t really know the best way to do that.

One very practical problem is that I don’t actually know what colour skin somebody has until I invite them to speak.

Normally I find speakers by sending them a cold email, or when somebody introduces me to somebody. But unless it’s obvious from their name, I actually don’t know what colour they are until I go to LinkedIn to grab their speaker pic.

By which time I’ve already invited them to speak anyway. See the problem?

Maybe I should race-check people on LinkedIn before I even decide if they’re a fit. But that feels wrong too. Ultimately I just want to run events that are interesting and enjoyable, and have an “honest” vibe about them. 

Anyway, as you can see I’m still figuring this out and trying to do the right thing as best I can. If you think Agency Hackers could be doing better and you have a constructive suggestion to make, I’m all ears – get in touch (ian@agencyhackers.co.uk)

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