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What is Agency Hackers and who is it for? Here, we’ll help you decide if it’s something you should be part of.

What is agency hackers?

Agency Hackers lets you meet other people in other agencies. 

You can learn from them, make friends with them and get support from them.

 Agency Hackers is a membership community. You pay a monthly fee and that gives you access for your whole team.

  We run events online most days – they’re aimed at the different agency disciplines: HR / people, client services, marketing and new business, operations and agency leadership

Most of the people you hear from are other people working in agencies. This way you get the honest mess and not the tidy lie.

 

Pre-Covid we ran live events in London each month. But for now, all our events are online. We do plan to re-introduce live events in beautiful venues as soon as we can, but the online schedule is here to stay.

Who is Agency hackers for?

Agency Hackers is perfect for some agencies – and not perfect for others.

  • The typical Agency Hackers member is an independent agency with a headcount of between 15-60 people, and revenue of £2-£6m.

  • What types of agency? Well, it’s a stir-fry of advertising, creative, e-commerce, SEO, PR and more. We try to mix it up, because if it’s too homogenous you don’t learn anything.

    You can still join and get value if you’re outside that sweet spot. For example, if you’re 6 people and you plan to grow it’s helpful to hang around with people who can show you what’s around the corner.

    But if you DO join and you’re outside those parameters, you just need to be mindful that not all the content will be pitched at you. You’ll need to pick out the parts you can use.

 

What about other agency communities?

You have a decent choice of several agency communities, and Agency Hackers is part of that landscape. 

Each of these communities has a different offering and lures different creatures into its lobster pot:

  • There are some agency communities that focus on helping smaller lifestyle agencies. 

  • Some attract agencies at the start of their journey – businesses with revenue under £1m.

  • Then there are communities that tend to focus on bigger, more “ad-land” type agencies. 

  • Some are run by committees and some are run by big personalities – often ex-agency owners – who tend to have a Marmite effect with people.

Another big difference between these is the culture.  I’ve heard that some agency groups are full of ‘doomsters’ and ‘gloomsters’. Others are populated by hyper-caffeinated guru types with several emojis in their LinkedIn profiles. Some feel very “serious” – others feel very scrappy and homebrew.

Agency Hackers might be good fit if you are interested in learning from other agency leaders, and if you have a team that you also want to keep engaged.

I am biased though – so ask around and see what people recommend.

I find we attract a friendly, thoughtful crowd. They’re serious about growing their agency – but at the same time have a sense of humour. (A few people have avoided coming to Agency Hackers events, because they’ve been to agency events that have been full of show-offs. I’m not quite sure why, but somehow we have never had that.)

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 every week for our members.

Agency Hackers is about the actual craft of running a business.

We work really hard to find authentic, crunchy war stories – told by people who run agencies themselves.

 

What topics work?

  • 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 work?

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.

Talks that DON’T work for us would be:

  • How AI / blockchain is disrupting advertising and marketing

  • Is the smartphone making us stupid?

  • Anything chin-stroky, too macro or theoretical

who can speak?

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

We do certainly often have talks by consultants and coaches. They certainly have a valuable perspective because they get to peep into lots of different businesses.

But as a rule, it’s normally more interesting to hear from agency leaders who are “living it” rather than taking about it.

Do you pay speakers?

Not normally. This doesn’t often come up, but I’ll explain here anyway.

I’m not religiously opposed to paying people to speak. We have done it in the past, and it’s probably something we will look at more as Agency Hackers grows. (When we run live events, we obviously cover travel expenses and put people up in hotels and stuff if they’re travelling a long way.)

But for the most part, agency leaders seem happy to come along and share their wisdom with a keen and interested audience. Finding brilliant stories is generally not a problem.

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 too, 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.

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

Matthew Kershaw from Iris was great. In contrast 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!)

What is your speaker diversity policy?

Nobody has ever actually asked me: “Ian, what is your speaker diversity policy”? But it’s certainly something I think about, so here goes.

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

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.

At the moment I’m the person who decides who Agency Hackers gives a platform to. I think that I have a good eye for a story, and that I am 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!

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

Looking back over our events 75% of our speakers have been male. You could say: this sausage party is just reflective of our audience. After all, according to research by the Wow Company only 23% of agency owners are female. So perhaps we’re just accurately reflecting our audience.

That seems to make some sense to me.

I’m not sure it should be Agency Hackers’ mission to alter the make-up of a particular industry. 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 another view might be – no. You should always aim for 50% women speaking because 50% of people are female.

I honestly don’t know.

When we did live events, we’d 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 balanced out, but if you came to the one with all guys you’d (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 women even say: “Hur hur – tick the right boxes do I?” 

 They are joking, but they’re not. Ugh!

 People sometimes ask: “What are you doing to encourage more women to become agency owners?” The answer to that is: nothing. Here is why.

  • Firstly, I don’t especially 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 went 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.

I don’t want Rachel Bell to think I asked to speak at Agency Summit because she was a woman!

Pale, male – hopefully not that stale. Agency Hackers founder Ian Harris.

What about diversity in terms of race / colour? 

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! I think we have had four black speakers ever? And maybe six non-white speakers? 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 set the ball rolling anyway.

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)