B2B invasion! UK agencies from over here are doing rather well over there*

B2B marketing agencies from the UK are heading out across the Atlantic, a move that has interesting implications for the global B2B industry, writes Joel Harrison

Watch out America – the Brits are coming. Or perhaps more precisely, they’ve already arrived. No, I’m not harking back to the Beatles and the Rolling Stones invading the US airways and concert venues in the late 1960s (although, there is a parallel here). This is one of my principal conclusions from having spent much of the past few weeks (not including Christmas) pouring over the data from the UK B2B Marketing Agencies Benchmarking Report.

What this data showed, very clearly and surprisingly, was the extent to which UK B2B agencies are actively expanding in the US. There's always been a small proportion of agencies from over here (UK) who have sought to establish a foothold over there (US). But until recently, this has been very much the minority, and those agencies that have sought to do so have had the backing of a larger agency group. This year’s data suggests this is no longer the case.

Transatlantic travels

Of the top 20 agencies in the 2018 league table, a remarkable 60% have a listed office in the USA. And this focus on the US doesn’t end there – whilst the propensity to have an international office is inevitably lower, the further you drop down the league table (smaller agencies less likely to be able to span the Atlantic, for various reasons) it remains at a respectable 45% for the top 40 as a whole. What’s more, there are agencies even further down the rankings who are active in the US. And it’s also worth saying that some of those agencies who don’t have a base in the US do have international offices in other locations – including Europe, Singapore or Dubai.

By contrast, the instances of US B2B agencies successfully establishing themselves in the UK (or anyone outside North America) are few and far between. In my experience, the two B2B agencies who have been most successful both sides of the Atlantic are gyro and Stein IAS, and interestingly, both of these were formed by mergers of agencies on either side of pond that were already successful in their own rites. More recently, US-based Babcock & Jenkins did establish a successful foothold in the UK, but financial problems at HQ forced it into liquidation. (Fortunately, those at the helm in the UK managed to salvage the goodwill of clients, relaunching as Alias Partners – who are too new to feature on this year’s League Table). Beyond this, I know of no other instances of a US B2B invasion.

Is the UK the little B2B brother of the US?

Why is this important? Well, the US has always been (and remains) the home of B2B marketing. It’s been better understood, respected and supported there than anywhere else in the world. Much of the technology, terminology and techniques that we use in B2B originally emerged from the US, and the US B2B agency scene is large, diverse and buoyant – reflecting the US economy.

This expansion of UK-based agencies into the US reflects the growing confidence and sophistication of not just the agencies in the UK, but also the wider B2B sector. For me, it shows the disparity of the relative credibility and clout of the B2B industry on opposite sides of the pond has vanished – indeed, it might even suggest that B2B in the UK is starting to overtake the US, in ambition if nothing else. Perhaps with more certainty, it suggests that if B2B is to truly become a global industry, this may be more likely to be driven from the UK than the US.

*Older readers may remember this campaign and slogan from Hanson Group’s advertising in the 1980s, reflecting the conglomerate’s success in the US.

B2B Marketing Agencies Benchmarking Report 2018

Who are the UK’s best B2B marcomms and PR agencies? Revamped and expanded for 2018, this report is jam-packed with more analysis on the state of the B2B agency market, where it’s heading and what it means for you.

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B2B Marketing Agencies Benchmarking Report 2018