Is Getting Back to the Basics the Boost Your Agency Needs?

By Jason Swenk on August 29, 2021

Can you identify some services that might be holding your agency back? Maybe it’s time to consider getting back to the basics. Phil Blackmore and his agency Create Health are really passionate about bringing back something the world of health marketing has been lacking: creativity. Recently the pandemic helped him reflect on the agency’s true core and what they should be focusing on. So, the agency recently re-launched with the motto “creativity is the cure”. Phil joins the podcast to talk about how that move reenergized the team and made running an agency much easier.

3 Golden Nuggets

  1. Getting back to the basics. We tend to fall into the trap of going after what’s novel and trying to come up with something cool that hasn’t been done before. That can get you a bit of exposure, but it’s not the backbone of your business. Phil explains that the pandemic gave him a chance to really reflect on what it is that his agency was really good at. To think about what they enjoyed doing for their clients.
  2. Get rid of what may be holding you back. It became clear that his agency shined the most when it came to bringing creativity to the health care sector. And so, they made the decision to shed other services, like tech, to focus on what really mattered to them, and what they were best at. The entire process took about six months, but Phil says it was definitely worth it. They could now focus on what they were better at. Clients were delighted at the results and the team was happier.
  3. Fewer HR headaches. According to Phil, another advantage of having a very clear focus for your agency is that it makes some things much easier. It has allowed the agency to change culturally and clearly identify the opportunities for growth in the future. Also, this simplifies the task of knowing exactly what sort of talent to look for to make that happen.

Sponsors and Resources

Ninja Cat: Today’s episode is sponsored by Ninja Cat, a digital marketing performance management platform where you can unify your data, create beautiful, insightful reports and presentations that will help you grow your business. Head over to to enjoy an exclusive offer for podcast listeners.


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Getting Back To The Basics And Figuring Out The Backbone of Your Agency

Jason: [00:00:00] What’s up, agency owners? I’m excited for another episode of the Smart Agency Masterclass. Now, before we get into it, I want you to do me a favor. If you’re listening, obviously you’re listening to the podcast, take a screenshot. Upload it to your favorite social media channel and tag us, so I can give you a shout-out for listening to the show.

Today we’re going to talk to an amazing agency owner across the pond over in London. Um, because that’s the only city I actually know over there. He said he was outside of it and he was trying to explain it to me. But we’re going to talk about getting back to the basics and a lot of things that we’re ignoring and we’re not doing for ourselves, but we’re doing it for our clients. So let’s get it to the episode.

Hey, Phil. How’s it going?

Phil: [00:00:54] Really good. Thanks, Jason. How are you?

Jason: [00:00:55] Hey, man. Awesome. Well, I’m excited to have you on, uh, so briefly tell us who you are and what do you do?

Phil: [00:01:03] Yeah, so my name is Phil Blackmore and I’m one of the agency owners of Create Health, which is a specialist advertising agency that, uh, yeah, by the name, as you can probably guess, does everything in health care.

Jason: [00:01:14] Awesome. And so in, in kind of pre-show we were talking about really, you know, getting back to the basics. And so what, what have you found in scaling your agency? You guys have been doing it for a while, um, and… You were telling me a little bit beforehand about when COVID happened, it kind of made me rethink something.

So what happened? Tell us that story.

Phil: [00:01:41] Absolutely. So, I mean, we obviously spoke, I think, about 14 months ago. And, um, I think we felt we were doing pretty well as a business. But obviously COVID, I think is certainly the most, testing period of time I’ve ever been through as an agency owner. And, you know, as I’m sure anyone listening to this can empathize. You know, a lot of things, I didn’t think I’d have to face I have. With regards to decisions on staff, services, all kinds of things.

But I suppose, through all the darkness, there was a real opportunity to actually reflect on what it is I’m trying to build and what it is we’re trying to do as an agency. And I think one of the things I found really interesting was I’ve always believed that we’re really good at what we do. Um, but actually we were probably guilty of hiding that by trying to come up with a clever way of explaining that to potential clients and prospects.

So yeah. The, the pandemic and the last 12 months has given me a real opportunity, I suppose, to reflect back on what is it we like doing? What is it we’re respected for? And how on earth do we just kind of simplify the story and get that back out to existing clients to expand them? But also to new clients we want to work with?

Jason: [00:02:48] Yeah, I think we all kind of fall into that trap. Especially the ones of us that have been doing it for a while, right? Like it’s, you know, we just get reactionary to everything. And then, uh, you know, I remember doing this when we were building an e-commerce platform back in 2001. You know, like, clients would call and we’d be like, okay, like they’re paying the bill, let’s take our foot off this.

Or when we were developing a CMS system in 2002, like I was like… Go on.

Phil: [00:03:22] Absolutely. And I think the really funny thing, if anything is, in some ways you… I don’t know, I think you’d get so obsessed with the novel, trying to come up with something new and cool that hasn’t been done before. And actually, as much as that’s wicked, that can get you a bit of exposure. It’s not the backbone of your business.

It’s good for that awareness, but actually, it’s not what you’re going to be bought for. Um, you know, people want a good solid foundation and want to know that you’ve got the goods to back it up.

Jason: [00:03:48] You know, one of, one of my favorite movies is Moneyball. Now I’m not a huge baseball fan. Um, but I love, you know, sports stories and, like, what you just explained is kind of like us getting up to bat and trying to hit a grand slam every time. And what’s going to happen is we’re going to strike out more than we’re going to score. And what you know, why I loved Moneyball was they were like, we just need to get the right players that can get on base.

I don’t care if they get hit and they get on base or if they get walked or whatever it is. I just want them to get on base. And I think agencies really need to focus about how can we just get on base? Like stop over-complicating it. So what were some of the things that you did to make it not as complicated?

Phil: [00:04:42] So I think, um, we fundamentally went back and looked at, firstly, what is it that are, why did I set the business up in the first place? In terms of why did I and my partner Bill, why we started. And it was because we believe that in our sector creativity was massively underrepresented. Um, in the healthcare space, it’s a very safe, conservative kind of sector as you’d expect because of the subject matter.

But it’s also the most, uh, emotionally rich from, I suppose, a story perspective, you know, health touches us all. And what I thought was interesting was that, looking back at all the pitches we’d won. Looking back at kind of the business, historically, the one thing clients kept saying about us is that they love was just how creative we were. And how we were bringing, I suppose, broader thinking into a sector that they hadn’t seen before.

So we went back to basics and was like, well, you know, what’s wrong with this sector? And then came up with this kind of, I suppose, positioning that I’m very pleased with, which is creativity is the cure within healthcare. And we then, having got that basic kind of sentiment, went out and found scientists who specialize in behavioral psychology and other such areas to really help back up our belief that creativity is the cure.

So yeah, we have this really lovely line, but then we made sure it was grounded in the science. And yeah, we stripped back our services. Um, actually got rid of certain departments so that we could focus and invest more on, I suppose, the creative and the planning side of things, which is really resonating with, with our clients. And the team and the energy is just so much better now.

Jason: [00:06:16] Oh, and you probably do things a lot more efficiently too, if you started stripping away some of the things. And a lot of times I find agency owners have a hard time of getting rid of some services. Um, so what was kind of the step or like, especially if you’re doing some services for legacy clients, did you just say, hey, we’re not doing this anymore? Or did you just stop marketing it for new ones coming?

Phil: [00:06:42] Yeah. So I think one of the biggest, I suppose, shocks was we turned off building tech internally. So we used to have a department that, that built the apps and the websites, the CMS is all this sort of stuff. And we made really good money off it, historically. But we got to that juncture where it’s like, you’re either going to be a tech agency or you’re going to be a creative agency.

You can’t really be both and didn’t have the, I suppose, capital to, to try and do both properly. Um, so as I said, we realized that we preferred creative more, that we were better at it. So we turned off those services for tech. We still think digitally and techno, technology, but we’ve partnered with agencies that are really good in that space.

So they do the build and the maintenance and all the stuff that we quite frankly, weren’t that good at. We have the upfront strategy and ideas. Um, and yeah, and that’s for the clients that we had on board. Uh, and we went to great lengths to make sure that we handed them off to partners that we, we felt had the same values as us.

So they didn’t feel like we’d, we’d kind of left them high and dry. We’d done the right thing. And we sell, felt immensely kind of cleansed and relieved that we had one less thing to focus on. Um, as I said, creative is what we’re good at. And it’s what clients… what’s lovely when you talk to procurement, you know, you go in with a really niche offering of, this is what we do, and this is why we’re great at it. This means, again, you, you get rather than being a generalist, being that specialist really does get you higher up the list.

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And when you do that too, I mean, you can demand so much bigger on prices. It’s kind of like if you just go see a general, your general doctor and they’re checking the oil and checking your temperature, they get paid so much. But if you need to have brain surgery, you know, they’re going to be getting paid so much more than, uh, someone that’s a generalist.

Um, so when you started peeling back some of the services and getting rid of those, how, how quick? Cause a lot of people listening are like, well, how quick did you start to see a change and growth and profit and also revenue?

Phil: [00:10:05] Yeah. So, I mean, it was obviously a frightening to have to turn things off. Because as I said, we’ve made historically good money. But then when you start to turn off all the other things that you don’t need to have suddenly, you know, all the different platforms, the hosting. Everything else that actually was, unbeknownst to us costing us tons of money behind the scenes. In terms of, and not necessarily being recharged back as it should be.

There were a lot of clients that we weren’t charging the hosting. On to, you know, silly little things that I think a pandemic certainly sharpens your eye on. Um, but yeah, I mean, in terms of a change, it’s certainly taken about six months for it to kind of wash through.

Um, but yeah, the last sort of six months have been tremendously good in comparison to the others. Because, yeah, we’ve, we’ve just had more time to focus on the stuff that we enjoy doing. And because we enjoy it, we do it better.

Jason: [00:10:51] Yeah. Yeah. I almost look at it as you’re climbing a mountain and you realize the trek to the summit is really like… you could die by going this one path. But if you backtrack, you can get on an easier path.

And then you can get up there, um, you know, eventually without little risk. I, I kind of look at it as like, that’s kind of what you’ve done is like, all right, this is the risky pass is going up there. And then when you start again you’re like, man, this is really pretty easy, a lot easier, you know? And now you probably see a lot faster growth too.

Phil: [00:11:30] Well, I think it also just makes it so much easier for us thinking about staff in terms of who you’re hiring. Um, having that clarity of focus has meant that we’ve been able to change culturally in our kind of our processes. You know, creativity is very much at the heart of everything we do. Um, we’re really clear on where the opportunities are and things like CGI now and other areas to amplify what we do creatively.

So yeah. Uh, in some ways it’s just made it really, really simple for us. It’s also meant, I mean, we’re, we’re based in Bristol. It’s a big tech city. So we were always competing against people who could outbid us for the best talent anyway. So yeah, in some ways it’s, it’s nice not to have those kinds of HR headaches either.

Jason: [00:12:10] Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, when, when I’m talking with our mastermind, we’re always talking about recruiting, right? Because we’re at levels. You know, everyone in the mastermind is at a level where they’re getting tons of business. But it’s, it’s harder to keep up. And they’re trying to get out of the day-to-day operations and really build the leadership team and really transform from an owner to a CEO. And it really comes down to talent.

But now if you’ve stripped back a lot of the services you know exactly what you need. Because a lot of times I find agencies hiring people to do things that they have no clue about because they want to add more services. And I actually think that’s actually a mistake in most cases. Because how can you measure someone on something you’ve never done?

Like you’re going to be a horrible manager rather than look, I’ve done millions of websites. I can measure. And I know if someone is BS’ing me in the interview or BSing me for the first six months. Um, you know. It’d be like, you’re gone in the first week.

Phil: [00:13:19] Yeah, absolutely. And as you said, it’s, it just, I’d say, I think that the thing I struggled with is probably the biggest shift in terms of becoming a, an owner is the, your time is, it’s so precious. And you can end up doing tasks, which, you know, are not really reflective of the, of the value that you have on the business.

So, yeah, the more you can do to, as I say, get back to basics. Strip away the things that you think are doing you favors… But really aren’t and actually just, just focus on, on, on the bits that you enjoy. The business is going to do so much better.

Jason: [00:13:50] Yeah, exactly. Well, this has all been amazing, Phil. Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you think would benefit the audience?

Phil: [00:14:01] I think, uh, the key thing would be whatever your point of difference or proposition is, just make sure that it’s something that really runs through the core of the business. Not something that just sounds nice on a flyer or a website. As I said, creativity is something I’m very passionate on. And so, you know, having that as a driving force for the business means that it’s infectious. And others pick up on it because it’s coming from the top down.

Um, and I think the key thing then is to nurture it. Uh, and just make sure that it then comes back up towards you in more interesting ways as well. That’s, that’s how the business will grow through the, the great people that we hire.

Jason: [00:14:34] Well, I think, you know, the reason why it’s worked for you so well is you have such passion and the belief in it. Versus choosing it based on, well, I think we can do this to make more money.

I think the make more money as a byproduct, right? I think when people start just focusing on the money, I think they start making bad decisions. Um, and, uh, it gets a little bit more challenging. So, awesome, uh, what’s the website people go and check out the agency?

Phil: [00:15:03] Uh, is

Jason: [00:15:06] Awesome. Well, everyone go check that out.

Thank you so much, Phil, for coming on the podcast. It was a lot of fun and yeah, we just got to go back to the basics. And if you guys want to be able to really kind of see the things you might not be able to see in front of you and you want to be surrounded by the best talent. Uh, from all the agency owners all over the world, I want to invite all of you to go to

This is our exclusive mastermind just for agency owners that are going through a rapid scaling of their agency. And they want to get to a point where they have the opportunity to sell it one day or to exit in the things that they don’t want to do anymore. And have that freedom that we all really wanted.

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