Five things we screwed up in 2019

It’s been a great year at Incite. We’ve done great work for great clients, won yet more awards and welcomed a new Consumer Strategy team joining us from our sister agency Pragma, bringing an overtly consultancy-led proposition for a different set of clients. But that doesn’t mean everything was plain sailing.

It’s become fashionable in business to talk about encouraging experimentation, embracing failure and learning from mistakes. And it’s easy to say “We learn from our mistakes”. But it takes more courage to admit what those mistakes actually were. As part of our end-of-year wrap-up we’re taking a bracing look at five things that didn’t go as well as they could have, and think about what we’re going to do to avoid them in 2020.

1 / Brothers in arms

A big new thing for Incite in 2019 was discovering ways to work with our sister agencies in the wider Kin+Carta digital transformation group.

Here’s what didn’t get us anywhere: spending a lot of time in meetings worrying about client ownership, how we do a joint pitch, how we split revenue, etc etc etc…

It wasn’t that we weren’t putting together smart plans, it’s that this was simply the wrong way to be thinking about this kind of partnership.

We learnt (the hard way) over the course of the year that what works best is trusting that bringing smart people with incremental skillsets into the room will lead to better quality outcomes for clients. That putting together a team that stretches our thinking, and which in turn stretches the client’s thinking leads to better quality outcomes. And that fine print and minutiae are all solvable problems once the right people are involved.


2 / It ain’t easy being green

This year we started working towards BCorp accreditation – a certification of our commitment to what they call a ‘triple bottom line’ ⁠— people, planet and profit.

And it turns out we’re really good at some things…and not so good at others. In particular in 2020 we need to get better at finding places we can deploy our teams that will deliver wider positive impact in our communities. And we need to be more conscious of our impact on the environment. We might not be burning coal in our office, but is a flight to a meeting always the best solution? Probably not.

3 / Smooth operator

A high proportion of our work involves primary research of one sort or another. The more smoothly that goes, the better. On the qual side, that means getting the right people in the right place at the right time. We were good at that, but not good enough. If you’ve been on the wrong end of a recruit who cancelled at the last minute, leaving you in god-knows-where wondering what to do with the rest of your evening, you’ll know how frustrating it can be.

So this year we overhauled our recruitment processes with extra quality checks to weed out ‘professional’ respondents, implemented new recruitment techniques using pre-screening by video chat, and upped our communication with clients – making sure they knew the right place to be at the right time, even as plans (inevitably) evolve.

And across our work, we learned from our new colleagues in the Consumer Strategy team the power of small tightly-defined project teams working in intense bursts. So we’re rebuilding our resourcing process to deliver smaller but more dedicated teams. That means we are concentrating our efforts in the right ways, and delivering work as quickly and efficiently as possible.

4 / Too shy, shy

One of the things we would likely tell any client with a small market share in a big market is that strategy is secondary to salience. Getting known is the first and – for a while – only job when marketing a challenger.

In a world of advertising, insight and consultancy behemoths, Incite remains a challenger and we weren’t doing enough to build our fame. That’s partly a consequence of who we are – we recruit for low-ego, high-IQ. Inquisitive problem-solvers don’t always make the best salespeople. But if we wanted problems for them to solve, we had to make sure we went out and found them.

So this year we’ve created more content, run more events and booked more speaking-engagements than ever before. And look out for even more in 2020.

5 / Hanging on the telephone

An old lesson that we all need to relearn from time to time was illustrated by our response to a brief that came in over the summer.

We spent the time to talk to the client beforehand, but when the written brief arrived the description of the challenge had changed – implying wider goals and a more complex method. The Incite team discussed what this meant and how our response would change.

A couple of days later, the proposal was complete but the client was left bemused that it didn’t match the original conversation. He duly selected another agency.

When we discussed with him why we had changed our approach, he could see how his wording had led us astray. But he pointed out that had we called immediately to highlight this, he would have corrected us, we would not have wasted two days writing a proposal, he would have received one more worthy of consideration and quite possibly selected us for the project.

So the lesson for 2020 is to keep talking – in person, by phone, or any of the multitude of inboxes and services available now. Draft early, check in, course-correct. We’ve doubled down on our process for responding to briefs and built in these checks to make sure we get it right. And we’ll remember the lesson when putting together plans and deliverables throughout the project lifecycle.