Saying “no” to the “just say yes” mentality

15th December 2021


Creative Director of kids creative agency, Collaborate, Dave Moxey, shares lessons he’s learnt from turning an agency with a broad client base into a genuine specialist authority… with surprising results.

Can we beat last year’s revenue? Can we maintain this staffing level? Where is the next order coming from? Pressures we can all relate to. But when new opportunities come along that are outside your area of expertise, Moxey says it’s better to say, “thanks, but no thanks”; and turn that business away. 

“It’s a false economy – a quick fix that will accelerate your downward sales trend… taking on every project thrown your way will ultimately dilute your authenticity. Specialising is the best way to grow a creative agency.”

When Moxey joined Collaborate Agency in the top creative role, in 2013, they worked with a diverse range of accounts in multiple industry sectors. The mantra amongst the account handlers was “just say yes.” They’d figure out how to do it later. The company’s growth rate was in single digits per annum.

As a newcomer to the business, it was easy for him to see what Collaborate was great at – children’s projects. Moxey told the staff to focus on children’s content and only children’s content, from now on. “By no longer pursuing business outside the main wheelhouse, account managers save time. The hit rate is higher and the production flow smoother. The danger is you can be a jack of all trades and a master of none, with fewer sales and more edits for the designers.”

One account manager summarised his month of meetings before this strategy, “I’d tend to have a muted response to our folio from most corporate sectors, but when I’d visit a family attraction or the marketing department of a children’s brand, the response was always incredibly positive, there was much more energy and they would say things like, ‘We can apply everything you have done here.’ They could see we got them.”

Moxey’s epiphany: when you’re good at something, clients see it too. They come back for more, and the whole industry sees it. It’s easier to overdeliver work that surpasses client expectations, and then secure more work. Conversely, not being a genuine authority, e.g. not knowing a good property website from a bad one, is evident in the end. It means more rounds of revisions and less profit for the agency.

Collaborate is the only agency in the world with Oxford University Press approved supplier status, it’s a huge endorsement. On the back of that, they also have Pearson Education and Cambridge University Press approved status. They boast several New York Times best sellers, Amazon no1’s, and Toy of The Year awards. Collaborate is one of the leading agencies in the world that generate content, brand, and marketing solely for younger audiences.  

A new account manager at Collaborate remarked, “In my previous agency they would have given their right arm to work with some of the children’s brands we work with here.” Yet to the Collaborate staff, this business seems easy and every day. 

As Moxey points out: “A high-end travel company isn’t going to use a designer whose portfolio features unicorns jumping over heart-shaped clouds – however well it’s presented. Likewise, a producer of children’s TV isn’t going to get excited by staged photos of office workers huddled around a boardroom table. We’ve swapped corporate identities for children’s product branding; annual reports for children’s books; estate agent websites for educational platforms aimed at young adults. Clients come to us because they know what they’re going to get and they know they’re going to like it. A lot.”

And it seems they’ve done the right thing! Year on year, Collaborate’s profits have grown by 40%. Last year, they produced an animation for Arianna Grande’s perfume line, delivered 400 minutes of animation for a Cambridge University Press educational programme, created 36 high-end picture books for Pearson Education and still had capacity to produce ad-hoc work for clients that included Penguin Books, DK, Pfizer, BBC, Brush Baby, to name a few.

By sharpening their focus, Collaborate have broadened their horizons and increased their client base. They’re proud to be creating children’s content, and children’s content alone. “Our new Mantra is,” Moxey says, “stay in your lane. We are #kidscomms”