Steve Parks | [Top Agency Series] Radical Transparency, Merging Four Companies Into One, and Predicting the Pandemic
Smart Business Revolution

Steve Parks is the CEO of Convivio where he helps agency leaders to work on their business as confidently as they work in it through writing, speaking, and training. He has experience leading creative and digital agencies for 16 years. Steve is also an Editor at Agency Radar, a briefing service for agency leaders that helps them think and plan more strategically.

Steve was a Journalist for the BBC in London for 10 years. He has been named one of the most inspiring agency leaders in the UK by a Bench Press survey of over 2,000 of his peers.

In this episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, John Corcoran is joined by Steve Parks, the CEO of Convivio, to talk about radical transparency and helping business owners build better agencies. Steve also talks about changing careers from journalist to agency owner, doing sales for big projects, and how he prepared his agency for the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay tuned.

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Here’s a Glimpse of What You’ll Hear:

  • Steve Parks’ early experience podcasting and his most memorable moments working as a journalist
  • How conducting interviews for the BBC helped Steve transition to become an agency owner, speaker, and trainer
  • What Steve learned about transparency and how he incorporates it in his agency
  • Convivio’s approach for mapping out a new client journey
  • Steve talks about shifting careers and doing sales for very large projects
  • How Wunder Group was formed, how it was sold, and what Steve would do differently for better results
  • What should agency owners do when overheads hit a million dollars?
  • How Steve planned and prepared his business for the pandemic
  • Steve explains why he shifted from working with government entities to working with agencies
  • The peers Steve respects and how to get in touch with Convivio

Resources Mentioned In This Episode

Sponsor: Rise25

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Rise25 Cofounders, Dr. Jeremy Weisz and John Corcoran, have been podcasting and advising about podcasting since 2008.

Episode Transcript

Intro 0:01

Welcome to the revolution, the Smart Business Revolution Podcast, where we ask today’s most successful entrepreneurs to share the tools and strategies they use to build relationships and connections to grow their revenue. Now now, your host for the revolution, John Corcoran.

John Corcoran 0:40

All right, welcome everyone. John Corcoran. Here. I’m the host of this show. And I feel so privileged every week, I get to talk to smart CEOs, founders and entrepreneurs of companies and organizations ranging from Netflix to Kinkos to YPO, EO activation, Blizzard lending tree Open Table, go check out our archives, because there’s so many great episodes back there, so much great learnings. I’m also the co founder of Rise25, where we help connect B2B business owners to their ideal prospects. And this is part of our top agency leader series where we have been profiling various different top agency leaders and thought leaders sharing their wisdom about this vital area of the economy. And our guest this week. First I want to give a shout out to Carl Smith of Bureau of Digital who is responsible for connecting me to our guests and our guest is Steve Parks. He’s led creative and digital agencies for 16 years. Before that he was a journalist for the BBC in London and we’re going to talk a little bit about that. And he now helps agency leaders to work on their business as competently and effectively as they work in it. Through his writing, speaking and training. He has been named one of the most inspiring agency leaders in the UK by French press survey of over 2000 of his peers. And now he’s also editor of Agency Radar and Seo Convivio, which is a consultancy working with agency leaders. Of course, this episode is brought to you by Rise25 Media where we help b2b businesses to get clients referrals and strategic partnerships with done for you podcast and content marketing. And if you’re listening to this podcast you’ve ever thought, you know, should I do a podcast? Will I be doing one for 11 years? And I tell everyone that they should do it as well. And Steve, you recently started a podcast right? So how are you enjoying it?

Steve Parks 2:10

Yeah, I’m enjoying it a lot. I first my first into podcasting was between 2004 and 2010. For the last 10 years, I remember for the first thing, we were doing some corporate podcasts in one of my agencies, it was a production agency. And we were pre loading some of the audio onto the early iPods to mail them out to clients of a client. And then yeah, regular podcast that would update on them from there. But I remember that early thing of you know, how do we explain to people how to download these things and how to sync it and, you know, used to have to connect the podcast, you know, player with a cable and download the episodes onto it. It was much easier now.

John Corcoran 2:54

So, so difficult back then, yes, yeah. It’s much easier these days to consume them. So that’s great. Well, welcome back to the fold. You’re an early adopter, and you’re back. I’m glad to hear that. So if you want to learn more about that, you can go to our website at rising tide. Alright, Steve, such a pleasure to have you. You got this great background. You were journalist for many years with the BBC. And I’m constantly you know, perhaps I guess, because I was raised by journalists, my dad was a journalist. And so and also the industry has changed so dramatically over the last 20 years or so, with the adoption of the internet. Talk a little bit about some of the highs and lows of being a journalist, you met presidents and you met astronauts and trained as a rally driver and prime ministers. You had some amazing experiences.

Steve Parks 3:42

Yeah, I think that’s the fantastic thing about being a journalist really is those experiences you somehow being a journalist gets you access to the kinds of places that you wouldn’t normally get to go. And that is the most fun sing behind the scenes of things. So remembering some of my favorite times, one of them was storming buildings with armed police. It was part of their training. It was a big old disused hospital. And there I was with all of these guys in black with the big helmets, the big guns, and everything. And we were storming this building, rushing up the staircases and things like that, that was, you know, absolutely fascinating to see behind the scenes there. For another series. I trained to be a rally driver. And so I had to actually get behind the wheel and be taught over a series of weeks how to actually drive around an Off Road Rally course. So that I would be able to a survive and be get a slightly respectable time. And it was thrilling, absolutely thrilling all the way through. So it’s those kinds of experiences. But then yes, also the people that you get to meet the kind of people that you get to interview and a bit like you were saying with your broadcast that you get to interview agency leaders, and you get to download that knowledge and, and I found the same with being a journalist, I could meet such a diverse range of people. And you’d get to download a little bit of their brain every time. And it was it was brilliant.

John Corcoran 5:14

Yeah. And tell talk a little bit about how that practice of doing interviews, high stakes interviews, and getting the information that you need in in a concise way. And then conveying it how that relates to the work that you’ve done as an agency owner now, agency, thought leader and trainer and speaker. Yeah, it

Steve Parks 5:38

was a fantastic training ground, actually. Because in terms of being a journalist, you’re learning about asking all of the right questions, you’re learning to be a 15 minute expert, you know, before you go and do an interview, or before you go on air, and suddenly, a guest is plunked in front of you in the studio, and you have to ask them some relatively intelligent things, at least, then you have to spend 15 minutes before the program, just brushing up on them on the subject you’re gonna be talking about, because you’re going to need to ask, you know, highly relevant, pertinent questions that are going to get to the nub of the matter, and be seen to be knowledgeable, but also, in the case of politicians or other leaders hold them to account some degree. And so you need the knowledge to be able to do that. So you quickly learned to be able to research and absorb information in a very speedy way. And that’s been tremendously useful for me. But you also learn to write and communicate in a concise and punchy way. And that as an agency leader, that is just gold. I think that’s one of the most valuable things.

John Corcoran 6:42

Now, one of the interesting things you did when you started your agency after you left journalism, was you believed in crazy transparency, these are your words, even showing the clients the budget, and the margin of the profit that you’re making now, and your team as well, which I’m sure that there gonna be other agency leaders listening to this or break out into hives just at the thought of that. So talk a bit about why you made that decision and how you made it work.

Steve Parks 7:14

Yeah, um, I kind of it wasn’t in my first and well, in my first agency, I learned about the value of that by not having done it. And then I did it from the second agency. So in the first agency, which ran for quite a number of years, and was successful for a long time, and then hit the 2008 financial crash, head on with, you know, some of the big clients that were the UK, his biggest banks, which was not the best time, right. So, in that business, I you end up when you hit crisis, then having stored up all of these things that are bad news to have to discuss with people and bad news that you have to think about as a management team, as an entire team or with shareholders. And it’s much better not to have that in the back of your head and be thinking, Oh, God, I really hope I can fix situation X, before person y finds out about it. And I see a lot of agent agencies that are having that relationship with their clients, where it is crikey, this has gone wrong, or we’re behind on that, I hope we can sort it out before the client finds out because if they do, I’ll have to have a difficult conversation. And what I found is that it’s much better earlier on just to be really open and transparent about everything in ridiculous ways. So we’ve started, when we were an agency, we started pitches to clients with Look, here’s what we think the risks are of this project, this is the stuff that could go wrong. Now we’re gonna look at where you could go and how you can mitigate these risks and manage it with a good process and the right kind of talent on the project in order to deliver the best results. Now, you know, agency school wouldn’t teach you to start the client thinking about risks. But we regularly won pitches with very large organizations, you know, national governments and so on, by connecting with them where they were like, Finally, an agency understands what we have to think about as a large client. We have to make these justifications and our business cases and so on. And you answered it head on, that was fantastic. Then you showed us what we could hope for. So we we talked about risk reopening and problems, but we also are very open about the numbers. So within a project, there is literally nothing that a client couldn’t see. And that did, as you said, include project budgets. I once had a call in the evening from a client in a bit of a panic saying, Steve, Steve, I thought I’ve had a really, really urgently because I’ve just been looking around the project documents and I accidentally clicked on something I don’t know how it happened, but I got to see your budget for the project. And I don’t think I should be allowed see that. So you know, I thought you better know so you can change a setting And I was able to say to him, Look, don’t worry, remember, we talked about radical transparency? Well, this is radical transparency. Go ahead and look.

John Corcoran 10:08

Okay, so let me ask an obvious follow up question on that. So what’s to prevent the client from being like, no, no, you’re making too much margin on this, you know, we want to cut that in half.

Steve Parks 10:20

Well, they then have to do with the fact that we don’t want to work with them. And what you want to do as an agency is get yourself into a position where the client knows they really want to work with you because of a specialism you have, or particular people you have within the team or methodologies you have, and they need, they know they need to work with you. And they know that because you’re good and you deliver, and you’ve got this track record that you’re worth the money, and then you don’t get those grapes so much. Whereas if you’re running a more commodity type business, then yes, people are always slicing the margin always looking, you know, I can get a can of beans, one P cheaper over here, can you match that? So you want to be selling not cans of beans, you want to be selling unique expertise, in a way that people feel scared that if you go away, they’ll be stuck. And then they don’t quibble on things like that, then they look at and go, Whoa, you’re doing quite well on you. Oh, I can see you. Hi. See, see why you’re growing as a business and that sort of thing. But they’re pleased for you. And they respect it. Because what you know, they realize why they’re paying the money.