Phil Seward | Crain's San Francisco

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Phil Seward


Based in the Bay Area, Phil Seward is senior vice president for the Americas at the Collinson Group and is regional director for the Americas at the group's ICLP. The companies provide customer-loyalty services across multiple sectors, including retail, travel and technology. Clients include DHL, Harrods and Cathay Pacific Airways.

The Mistake

Before joining ICLP, I headed up the highly agile loyalty team at Virgin America, and I recall the time we sought out an agency partner to support the relaunch of our co-branded credit-card portfolio. We ended up shortlisting two agencies, [each] with a very different pitch against the brief we had provided.

Unfortunately, we selected what ultimately turned out to be the wrong agency for the project. It transpired that as a team, we didn’t share a common understanding of what we really needed and so chose the agency that showcased creative concepts rather than the one with the analytical experience to deliver the results we needed. After just six months, both sides were unhappy with [the] progress, and we were forced to revisit our decision. Not least, we had lost time and created [more] work.

An agency is only as good as the brief you provide it with.

The Lesson

There were two clear lessons for me after this experience. In the short term, I learned that as clients seeking agency partners, we must always understand exactly what it is we need and [must make sure] all stakeholders are aligned on what we want before beginning the pitch process. After all, an agency is only as good as the brief you provide it with, and you’ll save everyone’s time if you can clearly communicate your requirements and expectations from the outset.

This has also stuck with me in the longer term and has been something I have taken to heart now that I work on the agency side representing ICLP. Even [when] clients might not be clear on exactly what they want, agencies need to make sure they are always questioning and drilling down on what is really needed. What can the agency bring to the business, and what unique skills can it provide that cannot be delivered internally? I ensure that my team always gets to the heart of why clients are seeking our services so that we provide tailored solutions to their business challenges. This ultimately will make both clients and agencies much happier — take it from someone who has experience on both sides of the divide.

Follow the Collinson Group on Twitter at @CollinsonGroup.

Photo courtesy of Phil Seward

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