On a recent episode of the MM+M sponsored podcast series, Marc Iskowitz, editor-at-large, spoke with Tim Frank, owner of Triple Threat Communications to chat about what inspired him to start the company, why clients have dubbed it “The Unagency,” and what the future looks like for independent agencies in the wake of the pandemic.
A familiar name to many in the medical marketing industry, Triple Threat has been in existence since 2004 when Frank said he grew tired of not being able to work directly with brands and began to question whether there was a gap in the market that could be filled by “really experienced people that just want to get back to working on the day to day efforts of the brand.”
One morning before boarding a flight, Frank stumbled on the book Getting Naked: A Business Fable About Shedding The Three Fears That Sabotage Client Loyalty, in an airport bookstore, which detailed how being vulnerable, transparent and humble with clients was vital to success in the client service industry.
“It talked about how it’s OK not to have all the right answers, and how it’s OK to work through the answers with your clients,” he said. “We’re often in a position where we feel the client is expecting us to have all the answers,” he continued, “which I don’t think is true. They’re looking for someone to come in and debate and discuss and take a point of view. It doesn’t always have to be the right answer, it just has to start the conversation that it takes to get you there.”
Frank said it was being able to see this blend of “the type of culture I really wanted to create” and the “practical aspects of the market needs clearly defined” that inspired him to start Triple Threat Communications.
When asked by Iskowitz to reflect on how he has worked to cultivate that culture and contrast against the big name agencies, Frank said it is the company’s “DNA” that sets it apart.
“We never wanted to be anti-agency, because we are an agency,” he said. “And it’s not really us versus the networks, because you can be a relatively small shop and have the same DNA as a large network agency. It’s really about what drives you forward and what gets you up every day.”
“We have a relentless focus on putting the client first,” he continued. “We want to make sure that our people wake up every morning thinking about the needs of their clients, and not the agency.”
One of the ways Triple Threat is staying true to its mission, Frank shared, is by removing revenue targets.
“If we’re going to lead a brand, we also need to be able to lead the other agencies that work on that brand,” he said. “And we need to lead them all toward a common goal of what’s best for the client versus trying to be the big dog eating out of everybody else’s bowl. We’re not interested in that — we’re interested in truly doing what’s best for the client by making sure our objectives are aligned.”
It was this passion for protecting clients’ interests that led Frank to publish a manifesto titled “The Network Agency Model: Big and Broken,” where he cited numerous examples of what he saw as misdirected focus, i.e., constantly consolidating and reorganizing.
“It was really to show that the focus of the big agencies and the networks are on the big agencies and the networks, not on the client and how their needs are changing,” he said. “One example we talked about was when you do well within an agency, you move up, and as you move up, you’re moving closer and closer to thinking about the agency every day and further and further from thinking about your client’s business — which was always befuddling to me [as to] why you would have a model in which you take your best product and you move them further from your clients.”
Ensuring that he has the best people in place has always been a key driver in Frank’s game plan. No stranger to working remotely in either his professional or personal life (both of Frank’s now-grown children were homeschooled), he credits the great performance of the company this past year to the fact that Triple Threat has been based on a remote model since its inception.
“I wanted to be able to get the best people and talent from wherever I could, regardless of geography,” he said. “We have always had a kind of hybrid policy where people come into the office maybe one day a week, and the rest of the time they are at home, or out with clients.”
Iskowitz probed Frank to think about whether that model still had the same advantages today, given how the pandemic has forced almost everyone to have to work remotely and get better at adaptation and toggling when it comes to client work.
“When you look at the big agencies, you have to look at whether they’ve really changed their focus during the pandemic,” he said. “I’d say they’ve changed how they work, but I don’t know that they’ve changed their focus.”
“Our focus has always remained the same,” Frank continued. “To put our clients’ needs first. And while the remote model we follow may not be as unique as it was five years ago, I believe that by staying true to ourselves and who we are as a company will continue to serve us as we evolve the business.”