Speaking at Agency Hackers

Do you want to be involved in an Agency Hackers event? Great! Here’s what you need to know.

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Agency Hackers lets agency leaders mix with, learn from and be inspired by people running similar businesses.

This means we’re always looking for interesting people who can speak at our events – whether they’re live events like Agency Summit, or online events like the webinars we run for our members.

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Who comes to Agency Hackers?

The typical Agency Hackers person runs an independent agency with a headcount of between 50-80 people, and revenue of £3-6m.

Obviously, it varies. We get some agencies that are bigger, some that are smaller, and even some that are part of the big networks. But if you put a gun to my head I’d say that’s the sweet spot.

All kinds of agencies come to Agency Hackers. It’s a stir-fry of advertising agencies, creative agencies, e-commerce agencies, PR agencies and more. We try to mix it up, because if it’s too homogenous you don’t learn anything.

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What do you look for in a speaker?

Agency Hackers is about the actual craft of running a business. We look for authentic, crunchy war stories – told by people who run agencies themselves.

So great topics might be:

  • An interesting mistake you’ve made – and what you’ve learned from it.

  • New and original things you’ve done (or are doing) around marketing, culture or operations.

  • Wins or challenges that others can learn from.

  • War-stories about transformation or agency change.

  • Controversial or unusual opinions about running a business.

What topics DON’T you like?

We don’t really go for talks that are broad, vague, wishy-washy, or too “high concept”.

Agency Hackers is about the ins and outs of actually running an agency – it isn’t concerned with the health of a particular industry or technology. So we don’t look for talks about “the future of advertising” or things like that.

We also don’t like chin-stroky topics about human behaviour, global mega trends, or theoretical wisdom. If you think it would make a great TEDx talk – it’s probably too broad for Agency Hackers.

Talks that DON’T work for us would be:

  • How AI / blockchain is disrupting advertising and marketing

  • Is the smartphone making us stupid?

  • Is social media a force for good?

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Who can speak?

Generally, we look for talks by people who are currently part of an agency business.

We do sometimes have talks by consultants – people who make their living selling stuff to agencies. But they’re less common.

We’ve just found that agency leaders prefer to hear from people who are “living it” like them.

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What kind of speaking formats are there?

We have lots of formats – so if you’re not a natural public speaker, that’s no problem. We will work with you to find one that lets you tell your story in the best possible way.

Formats include:

  • Traditional stage talk with slides

  • “Campfire session” – where you take part in a small discussion with interested delegates

  • Fireside chat, where somebody asks you questions

  • Webinar – where you either present or you’re interviewed

They tend to be about 20-30 minutes long.

That’s me – pale, male, hopefully not  that  stale. I don’t really speak at Agency Hackers. I leave that to agency leaders.

That’s me – pale, male, hopefully not that stale. I don’t really speak at Agency Hackers. I leave that to agency leaders.

What is your speaker diversity policy?

Okay, hands up: nobody has ever actually asked me “what is your speaker diversity policy”?

But it’s something I’ve been thinking about, so here goes.

Basically I want to do the right thing – but I don’t know what the “right thing” is.

Diversity means lots of things. To me it means gender and skin colour. Diversity is something I’m mindful of. Every time I run an event, I look at our line-up and think: do we have enough women? Do we have enough people of colour?

Often, we don’t. Not really.

I run Agency Hackers by myself. I think I have a very good eye for a story, and that I’m the best person to decide who speaks at Agency Hackers.

But I also understand that what this might actually mean is that everybody who speaks ends up looking like me. Which I don’t want.

First, gender.

Until now, only 25% of our speakers have been female. Is that okay if that accurately reflects our industry? Or should I aim for 50% to be equal?

Until now, only 25% of our speakers have been female. Is that okay if that accurately reflects our industry? Or should I aim for 50% to be equal?

I would say that right now, most of our speakers are white men in their 40s.

In fact I just checked. Yep – looking back over our events 75% of our speakers have been male.

Not good, right?

Perhaps one point of view is that being too “dudey” is just reflective of our audience. According to research by the Wow Company, only 23% of agency owners are female. So maybe we’re actually just reflecting our audience pretty accurately?

That seems to make some sense to me. If most agency owners in our audience are white men in their 40s, we’re just always going to have more of those kind of people speaking.

But at the same time, perhaps that a shit argument! And you should always aim for 50% women.

I honestly don’t know!

Most of the time when people speak, they approach me. I don’t have one email for men and another for women.

I try to judge everybody on their merits.

Every time I add a woman to the line-up, part of me worries she will think she’s only there because she’s a woman.

Now, race.

As far as I know, there are no industry stats on what percentage of agencies are run by people with black or brown skin.

But looking back at our previous line-ups, yep – they are very white!
That’s something I’d like to change. But I don’t really know the best way to do that.

One very practical problem is that I don’t actually know what colour skin somebody has until I invite them to speak.

Normally I find speakers by sending them a cold email, or when somebody introduces me to somebody. But unless it’s obvious from their name, I actually don’t know what colour they are until I go to LinkedIn to grab their speaker pic.

By which time I’ve already invited them to speak anyway. See the problem?

Maybe I should race-check people on LinkedIn before I even decide if they’re a fit. But that feels wrong.

Some people have told me the answer is quite simple: if you want to be more diverse, you should should go looking for non-white people to speak.

That does make some sense. Maybe I will actually do that! But then if I say I’m doing that – maybe people won’t want to come and speak if it feels tokenistic.


Ultimately I just want to run events that are interesting and enjoyable, and have an “honest” vibe about them. I know there are businesses you can pay to write you a speaker diversity policy. And while I’m not totally opposed to that, I suspect it would be a bit like putting the German shepherd in charge of the ham sandwiches.

There are lots of well meaning people who think about this kind of thing. And there are also quite a few weirdos with opaque agendas who make it their business to talk about this stuff.

All I’m trying to do is run interesting, profitable events – and not be a dick!

I kind of suspect that while the right approach is going to be not completely “woke”, it’s going to be “sort of woke” – if that makes any sense.

Like, it’s not Owen Jones in the Guardian – but it’s not Breitbart either.

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(And I say that as a monthly donator to the Guardian. I do not want my children to grow up in a world where Polly Toynbee can’t exasperate them.)

Anyway, as you can see I’m still figuring this out and trying to do the right thing as best I can.

If you think Agency Hackers could be doing better and you have a constructive suggestion to make, I’m all ears – get in touch (ian@agencyhackers.co.uk)