On this episode of THRIVE—sponsored by Workamajig—Kelly is joined by Robby Berthume, co-founder of Bull & Beard, which is actually an agency collective . Kelly and Robby talk about the business model for pairing vetted agencies with client needs, and how creative, media and technology agencies can learn more about this unique business development opportunity.
EP 40: Matching Brands and Agencies, with Robby Berthume
Kelly: So if you're like most agency leaders, most days you just want to know how to bring in new ideal clients. Right? Well, I want you to meet Robby Berthume, co-founder of Bull & Beard, which is actually an agency collective, or what he calls an agency list match-making firm based out of North Carolina. Robbie, thank you so much for being on the show today.
Robby: Thanks for having me Kelly.
Kelly: So let's start with, why did you start Bull & Beard and what was the reason for your recent repositioning as this agency collective as you call it.
Robby: Yes, certainly. So we started 5 and a half years ago, and before that I had a ten year history running an agency leadership position at agencies and I really felt there was this need for sort of a real estate agent that knows the neighborhoods and knows the schools and can come kind of navigate down the path and connect brands with the right resources and the right agency partners. And kind of realized this agency environment in an agency setting.
And that's when my business partner and I kind of looked at each other and said, “I think we have a business model here where we can be a little bit different from traditional agency search consultants and that we're not going to necessarily lead the whole dog and pony and bring on ten agencies or twelve agencies for a review and a pitch and kind of go about it that way, but we're actually going to leverage real relationships and real vetting that goes into those relationships and make one to one matches. And so, our model has always been very different and that we learn as much as we can about what the brand, what the marketer is looking for.
Kelly: So deep discovery.
Robby: Deep discovery with a lot of experience and dirt under our fingers, having kind of been there, done that in the agency world ourselves and then educate them as far as okay, you're asking for something but your budget is maybe not aligned with what you're asking for. This is the type of service, you’re gonna be able to…
Kelly: I’m sure that never happens.
Robby: Never happens at all. That's a frequent discussion, trying to get budget level set but basically qualifying the opportunity and learning more about the opportunity and then looking through our database of agencies that we've done an agency review with, which is our way of vetting and determining who is the best fit. So we basically do a shortlist ourselves and then decide where do we want to make a one-to-one match and an introduction, set up a call.
But we don't stop at that point. We don't just make an introduction. We actually kind of facilitate the whole process. We're on the calls, we’re understanding kind of both sides and after that first call, we're talking to the agency, we're talking to the brand. We're getting both of their honest feedback and I think they're really honest with us, because we’re a third party that they don't feel like they're insulting the agency or something like that.
So they could be really candid and open and say, hey this is what's going on and here's what we're looking for and then we just facilitate the process all the way through to a contractor completion. And our model is a bit different in that we don't charge a fee or a commission to the brands and there's no obligation on the brand side either. And so, it's free for them to work with us, procurement and buyers don't need to add us to their system. There's no contracts to be signed. It's very easy to work with us on the brand side. Agencies pay us a commission for a two year period. It staggers down after the first year, and then you pay as a business development sales commission basically for that and then repeat business.
And so, that's kind of morphed. Then the collective question is we were referring to ourselves as agency matchmakers and really kind of placing our flag in a stand in terms of, “Hey we’re matchmakers, this is what we do.” And I think that the term matchmaker can be sometimes confusing in that context. On the matchmaking side, we did some research and a little bit of focus groups and I determined that the concept of an agency collective, just resonated a lot more with brands, with marketers in particular as well as agencies may really understood better what it is that we do. Collective as a term is being used more and more often times for we have a collective of freelancers or that sort of thing.
Our model is more we’re an agency of agencies. We’re essentially an interface into hundreds of vetted and vouched for agencies and that's where we embrace the collective aspect and I think that the next evolution of the collective is we also have a community for agency owners who are working on a directory platform for agencies that size, really advertorial listings. And so I think the collective will become sort of a membership model with agencies that want to work with us and so then they can be in the community, they can be connected to opportunities that we have as well as in the directory getting exposure on that level so kind of a try factor of value on that side.
Kelly: So let's dive into the business model itself a little bit because I love how unique it is, how out of the box it is, and you touched upon already that you have these various offerings for the agencies. Can you kind of dive into that a little bit more and like what the audit looks like and even to the point of like how you determine which is going to be the best agency for the fit.
Robby: Yes, certainly. I mean so really from a vetting perspective, we typically start with an agency review and that's essentially a one-hour deep-dive discovery call. We have an interview, a questionnaire that we refined over the years and got better in asking the right questions, but really learning about the agency's positioning, their vision, their values, of course, category experience and capabilities, their weaknesses, really going from the inside out to learn as much as we can to kind of paint that picture for us from a matchmaking perspective.
We have a higher level called agency evaluation. And with the agency evaluation, we actually do a little bit more vetting when it comes to doing a SWOT analysis, a competitive analysis. Some more pieces of that puzzle to give us a fuller picture and really the more vetted the agency is, the higher they essentially rank in our database, in our system. And we go towards trust. We gravitate towards trust, and that's what built up that trust as the vetting process. And so, when we're doing a search, when we have something comes in.
And for instance, there’s a PR search, they want a PR agency for a specific project in mind. We're gonna look at the variables in the project and those components but they were gonna look at a lot of different factors and some of those factors are certainly capabilities, certainly category experience, but also things like their character, their culture, their communication. Different factors like that, they really just give us a better sense for, are they gonna have chemistry when it comes to the relationship with the brand. And a lot of times, I think really the center of it is capability in category but the IF factor is just their communication capability. Their ability to sell themselves to talk, to explain, to articulate, make them feel comfortable- that sort of thing.
And so, even though we have the vetting, we also have, I think the more matches that we make with agencies to brands, we become more and more comfortable with those agencies because we see how they run their sales process, we see what kind of materials they put it in front of the agency and get a good comfort level that they're going to be able to come in and really make a strong impression. And there are other agencies where on paper, everything looks great, and I'll make an introduction and then you get on a call and it's like- oh my gosh, like how is it, how is this happening?!
And then I have to be careful to consider, okay well next time around, are they gonna be the best match because it's not just the best agency for the projects or for the retainer, the opportunity, it's the agency that can sell themselves. It’s the agency that can get on the call and actually make a sale and grow the relationship. The other side of it is: we have a two-year commission structure and so we're looking at agencies that can come in, maybe with a project opportunity and turn that thing into a retainer and then grow incrementally, and we’ll support them in that, that's part of our role but that's definitely important to us as well.
Kelly: So a couple of things that you noted there. It sounds like your vetting process and your evaluation and assessment of an agency is pretty holistic. I mean it's not just the service offerings and maybe who is in their client roster but it really comes down to: can they develop rapport with the client, are they going to be that good personality match, are they really aggressive when they sell or did they take a low a softer more consultation approach. So I love the fact that you're not just looking at it as hey, this agency does x so they would be a good fit. I think that's really important and it's something that I think probably sets you apart from other, there aren't that many other agency collectives but there's certainly people who refer agencies to clients a lot and I think that makes, that is the IF factor like you called it. And I think that's incredible.
Robby: And I think part of it is I think there is this intuitive ability that we've developed and honed not only over the last five and a half years but just in the agency world in general where you get this level of gut instinct around relationships and around what kind of people are going to match with other kind of people. And so it comes into play even when it's I'm working with a Fortune 250, for example, I'm looking at- okay the marketing director, what is their age, what are they about, what’s their personality, who's the decision maker on top of them, that’s maybe the VP of marketing and really trying to determine what's going to be a good fit from a personality level because the bulleting category experiences is not that hard to find but chemistry is hard to find.
And so, finding the right kind of dynamic for the marketing director sometimes might even be different, might be a situation where the marketing director likes one choice and then the VP OF marketing likes another choice, maybe more conservative choice that makes them feel a little safer because risk is a big thing and B2B decision making and the Fortune 250 level special risk is a big factor. So I think that's a big part of it is the profiles and the vetting that we do but there's also this level of intuition where we have to kind of trust or got some say that somebody that I'd work with and not somebody that this personality is not gonna go well together because I think at the end of the day people want to work with people they like, they enjoy working with, that shares our values and sense of humor.
Kelly: And some really intimate relationship.
Robby: It is.
Kelly: So they have to enjoy, like oh, we’re working together.
Robby: Right for sure.
Kelly: Yeah, so if agency leaders who are watching and listening they're interested in being a part of your stable or getting involved in some way, maybe going through that audit process, where do they start first?
Robby: Yes, so the Agency Stable is our private community on Facebook. It's a private group and we’ve got a few hundred agency owners, it's primarily agency owners, there are some coaches, and consultants that I think really contribute to the conversation but that's a great first step. There's no cost. It's free. You can find the link by going to our website bullandbeard.com, scrolling down and there's three communities that we run the Founder Salon, the CMO Rodeo, and Agency Stable. And so, the Agency Stable, click that button, there's a little application just to make sure you’re an agency owner, and get your URL, that kind of stuff and then join that community. And there's a great vibrant community there.
So I’d say that's step number one and then step number two, I think is really looking at our website and looking out what we're doing, what we're about and I think deciding, hey, is it worth it to be a part of the collective, the entry fee or the cost essentially is the agency review is the vetting, we charge 250, which is a one-time fee for the vetting process, the initial vetting process. And that said, it's not a recurring fee. I mean once you're in, you’re in, and that's kind of your ticket to the rodeo and that allows us to do that one hour deep dive discovery call, schedule an agency review.
And then the next step I mentioned is something that we're working on now which is called the Agency Match, which is going to be editorialized directory of agencies in our collective but written from our perspective, kind of an Ebert and Rupert style directory where it's just third-party point of view and that will be another kind of way to get involved. We’ll have probably a listing population to write that editorialized listing, small fee to do that in our monthly listing fee but that will be a way for us to essentially reveal our black book to brands that want to kind of choose their own adventure and look at agencies that are in our collectives and maybe not necessarily use us as real estate agents. So kind of like a real estate agent or broker might have a website with listings and same concept here where we have our listings and then you can work with us if you actually want more of the hand holding and support from our side.
Kelly: So how does that work from the directory standpoint benefit? Is it sort of like more of a D. I. Y. model for the brands or for the clients? Are they getting access to this private listing so you know that they've found that particular agency or a couple of agencies through that or is it just sort of the honor system or how does that work from your standpoint?
Robby: Yes, so basically the directory is a bit different in that we're not going to have a commission structure in place. And so, agencies will pay the listing fee and the setup fee to get their listing started and that'll help I think also with agency struggle oftentimes with their own positioning and their own elevator pitch essentially. And so part of the listing will be that, will be their positioning statement elevator pitch and things like category experience, clients, character, and all that good stuff in terms of our review, our profile on the agency.
And every agency has to go through the agency review vetting process and then be approved to join the directory, and so there's definitely some barriers to entry to make sure that it's very high quality. From then on, for brands, it's literally a matter of browsing agencies by category, by capability, that sort of thing and finding agencies that they want to talk with. We’ll probably have a mechanism where they can input RFP style budget scope stuff like that and then we could step in and help with the search and then that's when a commission would apply. But if they're just navigating the listings on their own and want to reach out to the agency on their own, they're going to be able to do that, and that'll be the benefit of having a listing and then paying that listing fee for the directory members.
Kelly: Right. Okay. So as we start to wrap up, I did want to ask you about something. I read an article recently that it was positioned in a way that Bull & Beard is essentially you're the bull and Jason's the beard. I have to ask you, where did that come from? And like how true is that?
Robby: Yeah, it's pretty true. I mean, it's interesting because we came up with the name. I actually came up with the name before meeting Jason. I was down in Tampa with some agency buddies and we were having drinks and just talking about agency names and what we wanted to do, what the next chapter is, and came up with this name together. And I said, I want that I'm taking a guy's and he said, okay you got it. And it was Bull & Beard and the idea was at the time this kind of play off the last name. A lot of agencies the way that they do it it's a letter deed, it's easy to spell, it's alphabetically correct all, that good stuff. And that was it. We went running with it and developed out the first side and then we launched the business.
Jason and I partnered up, and basically we went to our first meeting at an agency to conduct a review and to learn more about them and their first comment was, "Okay so who's the bull, who’s the beard?" And we just looked at each other like okay I guess we're architects of the print, like we're gonna play this role, but definitely I would be the bull in the China shop, kind of charging and getting things done. And then just maybe sometimes a little too brash but more out there and then Jason is the beard, just kind of reflecting, is this a wise move, is this a good decision, likes to think about things and ponder.
And so, we have a good balance. I think as far as our business goes and our partnership goes, because we’re coming at it from two very different perspectives. And the other thing is I'm a millennial. I'm younger than he is. He's I think Gen X borderline baby. No, he’s late Gen X, but it's enough to kind of give us two different perspectives when we're looking at agencies or looking at brands or look at projects. Oftentimes, we'll both kind of see it from two ends and meet the middle, because we tend to see things in common, but I think catch things from a different perspective. I'll be the first person maybe to be like I don't know about these guys. I am very skeptical and he’ll be like, let's just give them time, that kind of thing. So definitely a different relationship.
Kelly: Yeah. And in a business partnership whether it's an agency collective or an agency, that dichotomy in having that balance is so important so that you have somebody who's a little bit more gung-ho and a little bit someone who is more conservative. So I would imagine that dichotomy. Actually, it works really well for you.
Robby: If it was Bull & Bull, this would be crazy. It wouldn’t work out. I mean there's no way and then he's a lot more just stable and quiet and supportive and just things that I'm not and that certainly helps from a business perspective, balance each other out and I think ultimately make better decisions and more balanced decisions for sure.
Kelly: That's what it's all about. So I will post links to the specific service offerings and different things that you have for agencies in the show notes and just want to thank you so much for coming on the show today. This has been great.
Robby: Yeah, my pleasure. Thanks for having me.