Unlocking SME Growth: Have Agencies Misplaced The Keys?

The UK is famous worldwide for its enterprising culture; its appetite for proaction in order to achieve social progression and financial reward. When it comes to business, we’re an intrepid bunch, us Brits, and this is something we should be proud of.

According to statistics from the Department for Business Innovation & Skills, small businesses accounted for 99.3% of the private sector at the start of 2015; a figure that extends to 99.9% when bringing medium-sized enterprises into the equation. SMEs are absolutely vital to the UK economy: they drive growth, create new markets, and provide employment for 15.6 million people; 60% of all private sector employment in the UK.

A Market Failing to Reward Ambition

And yet, despite hugely positive evolutions in the TV advertising market, it can be argued –  quite robustly – that not enough is being done to support such businesses with their entry into a medium that can have such a transformative effect on growth. 

In 2015 there were 877 new or returning (after a hiatus of 5-years) TV advertisers in the UK market, and around a couple of thousand businesses advertising on TV in total. However, with around 5 million SMEs in the UK, clearly there is a reluctance – even a refusal – on the part of many of these businesses to test the waters of a medium that now offers cost-efficient, analytically-driven, targeted and accountable advertising opportunities like never before. 

Why is this? Small businesses are, by definition, teeming with ambition and innovative, highly marketable ideas. As Adam Morgan, Founder of eatbigfish and author of the acclaimed book ‘A Beautiful Constraint’, eloquently explained at the recent Big Think 20016 hosted by Thinkbox, it also cannot be blamed on business restrictions. ‘The limitation’, he argues, ‘is the stimulus for a better outcome’, with a collective company ethos, willingness to take risks and the pursuit of opportunities all synonymous with successfully growing a small business.

A Case of Untapped Opportunity?

The current TV advertising landscape is one such opportunity that can be effectively harnessed by small businesses, ironically with an unprecedentedly low level of risk. 30% less expensive compared to a decade ago, extremely targeted as a result of expanded channel choice, and with half of all airtime essentially free as a result of high performing zero-rated spots, the financial implications of launching on TV are no longer prohibitive to all but the exclusive ‘Big Business’ club.

Factor in the innovative cross-platform tools now abundant, and the analytical platforms that succeed in effectively driving down Cost Per Leads, Acquisitions and Response, and the conclusion is clear: it’s not the medium that’s the problem, but the reluctance and inability of many – typically larger – agencies to accommodate and nurture businesses in need of a helping hand. Instead of scrapping over larger, established accounts as part of an insular industry ethos, we need to adopt a more outward focus on bringing exciting new business into the market. 

A Road Already Taken

Guerillascope has taken the same, winding course that many of the UK’s SMEs will be familiar with: after being founded in 2001 by three young entrepreneurs with backgrounds in TV, the company pooled its collective ideas and resources together to creatively circumvent considerable constraints and tap into new opportunities during its formative years, before reaching the next level in 2012 with the launch of its first TV advertising campaign.

This largely explains why we’re so passionate about supporting SMEs new to TV advertising, and why we brought 70 such newcomers to the market last year. We know how effective such a move can be; we’ve been there and done it ourselves. However, the frustration is that there is so much more potential; there exists a feeling that many more ambitious small and medium-sized enterprises could stand to benefit if they felt the market was more welcoming towards their bespoke needs.

Ultimately, the UK’s enterprising culture is something that should be cherished and nourished. TV advertising can have a hugely positive role to play in strengthening what is the backbone of our national economy, but only if more is done to support sustainable small business growth.