Business consultants to advertising and marketing agencies, William and Sangeeta Leach, tell Edwina Storie why planning is essential for a creative business to flourish.
In the creative industry, we tend to focus so much on clients’ problems and ensuring their business flourishes that we neglect our own.”
That observation by Sangeeta Leach led her and her husband William to set up The Leach Partnership back in 2005.
“The partnership has an ambition to get industry-wide recognition that business planning can really support a creative industry,” she adds.
The Leaches guide creative agencies in becoming future-proof, whether that be developing into a multinational or remaining a sustainable local agency.
The pair assist new agencies with teething problems, help established organisations solve management issues, and guide mergers and acquisitions as creative businesses decide it’s time to move up or out.
The idea of the business advisory company had been brewing before its 2005 beginnings. William spent 25 years in creative companies and was the youngest managing director of Saatchi & Saatchi, where he and Sangeeta met. She had also worked for JWT, St Luke’s and Accenture, where she oversaw the change management of high profile government projects.
Throughout their careers they had each worked through major business issues of both their clients and their companies. Noticing a lack of insight and consulting specific to the creative industries, they began to develop The Leach Partnership.
“We guessed there was a market, but we didn’t know,” recalls Sangeeta.
A design agency hoping to sell the business was their first client. William guided the team while Sangeeta worked behind the scenes. Within six months the agency had doubled its value.
With the first project’s success, they established the business name and took a gamble on the new career leap. “There wasn’t a back-up plan,” says Sangeeta. “It just had to work.”
The couple embarked on a two-year trial period and quickly saw The Leach Partnership grow. Eight years on, they now help creative companies plan for a successful future, whether that be looking two or 10 years ahead.
According to the Leaches, creative agencies often neglect to plan for their own business’ future.
They say there are predictable issues most agencies will experience as they expand.
“It’s easy for a manager to be across all issues when there are up to 10 employees,” William says. “But once you get between 10 to 25, and larger still, some interesting management issues arise because you can no longer be across everything. Leadership versus management is something we come up against over and over again as people mistake the two roles.”
William notes that many people get into senior management roles for being good at their job, as opposed to being good at managing business. They might get some limited training but it’s often been designed by the foreign headquarters and not specific to an Australian market.
Along with the growing pains of a team, some businesses can experience the souring of relationships, causing the company to lose focus and direction.
While William and Sangeeta were working for Saatchi & Saatchi in South Africa (he was CEO and she was strategic planning director), they noticed a cultural disconnect in the team after the fall of apartheid. To combat the issue, they brought in industrial psychologists to understand the reasons behind this and to establish a solution.
“If I asked people what was wrong they would only tell me what they thought I wanted to hear, as opposed to the actual issue,” says William.
Sangeeta explains that, when approaching client problems, they establish themselves as “outside insiders”. “We’re close enough to understand the company’s issues but not close enough to lose our objectivity.”
A major aspect of The Leach Partnership’s work is mergers and acquisitions, and they often encourage successful smaller agencies to consider buying as opposed to selling.
“It used to be that you built an agency to sell to a multinational, but a traditional agency model is no longer as valuable, so those opportunities are less sought-after,” William explains. “We hope to help companies understand that they don’t have to sell to make money, but you can buy.”
William and Sangeeta aim to show that business planning is essential for a creative agency to flourish. “Businesses are attracted to profitable businesses,” says William.
“Throughout Saatchi & Saatchi’s history, it had a reputable profile which attracted a lot of clients. The combination of brilliant work with a successful profile is unstoppable.”
The Leaches aim to take the stigma out of business planning and show, instead, that it creates a flourishing creative industry.
The Leach Partnership’s future harks back to its history, with both Sangeeta and William having worked internationally. They hope to take their expertise worldwide, with several international projects already in the works.
Their Agency of the Future program has seen them work with major multinational companies along with smaller struggling agencies to find the pivotal elements that ensure a creative business is sustainable and future-proof.
“A strong creative business planned for the future leads to greater opportunities,” William says. “And being passionate advocates of creativity. That’s an important element we can contribute to in helping agencies flourish.”