Four ways to survive if you want to expand into the US market

Only a few weeks into 2021 and we’ve seen announcements of UK agencies moving into the US, but what to expect?

Don't bring a 'Little Englander' attitude with you to the US, warns Andy Oliver
Don't bring a 'Little Englander' attitude with you to the US, warns Andy Oliver

Opening in ‘the US’ is a slight misnomer

Despite its 'McCulture' veneer, you can’t treat the US as one homogeneous market. Each region has its own nuance, network, way of doing business and requires its own specific understanding and experience.

For a UK agency opening up there, a starting office location doesn't have to be in the traditional hubs, such as New York. There are many significant – and less agency-saturated – business and media hubs, which provide an excellent springboard.

Go big, or go back to Blighty

When agencies leave the UK bubble they get a sense of scale of the US. In such a crowded market there is no shortage of established agency options for clients.

To thrive, even survive, you have to commit serious investment. One founder I recently spoke to, who made the jump to the US in the past few years, said if he could do it again, he would more than double his original investment.

Most agencies have a founding client to provide a platform for growth. But to rapidly scale, organic growth is, in most cases, not enough. Most Brits that have entered the US in the past decade have done so either through acquisition, or had a firm M&A strategy in place. Other agencies found out the hard way that they needed to acquire to survive.

If your investment is not outstripping your US-generated revenue in the short term, you’re not investing enough.

You can’t adopt a ‘Little England’ approach to the US

Most agencies send out their best and brightest from the UK. Brilliant though these transplants are, they will likely have little or no network, profile, or true understanding of the local landscape.

The priority is to hire locally and build up a team of experienced, US-based practitioners. Admittedly, it’s easier said than done to hire when no one knows who you are. In addition to rapidly building the brand, the right reward and recognition structures are essential to attract talent, which typically UK agencies do very well compared to US benefits. Dangling an equity carrot is persuasive.

UK-US culture is much debated. Culture can't be exported; it’s created, and through great hiring and good integration, culture will rub off. A US-based operation must be allowed to develop its own personality, contributing to the agency’s global culture.

Focus on UK creativity

A fundamental strength Brits possess is creative heritage and approach. Naturally, we will offer a different perspective within a US environment. Former US colleagues of mine have said they found this refreshing, and working with UK teammates helped them to look at situations differently.

Here is a strong value-add UK agencies moving into the US can offer. As the media landscape continues to transform and earned media gets so much harder, having that fresh creative spark can make a big difference. Marrying the creative view with local culture can be a game-changer.

Good luck.

Andy Oliver is a global growth consultant for independent agencies

Thumbnail image Getty Images

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