Valuing the finance function in agency culture - moving from number cruncher to insight provider

The importance of finance talent in the media and marcoms sector

The media and marcoms industry is, for the most part, led by innovators and creatives, not necessarily those who are, by nature, commercially focussed or versed in nurturing finance talent.  Quite often, the focus in innovation businesses is on brilliant creative propelling the business forward because that is where the business leaders’ expertise lies.  Although understandable, this natural focus towards innovation can, in some cases, result in a lack of appreciation for the potential of the finance function to provide valuable commercial direction.  Engaging the right finance talent has the potential to add value to an agency’s offering and generate a very tangible competitive edge beyond delivery of services.


But what does the right finance talent look like?

I have worked with a number of successful, rapid-growth businesses that are creatively and technically brilliant, but don’t have the financial expertise or the right processes in place to drive long-term profitability.  In order to successfully steer the business through its lifecycle, it is important to invest in senior finance talent that possesses the commercial insight required to maintain margins as the business achieves scale.  Instating financial leadership with sharp commercial focus (which extends beyond number crunching) will enable the business to successfully navigate the pitfalls of scale development that creative businesses commonly experience, such as, when and how to invest in talent and how to create a sustainable business model. CFOs add the most value to an agency's offering when they move from being a data processor to being an insight provider, offering sound commercial direction. Failing to engage senior finance personnel that can deliver genuine leadership understates the true value of the finance function in creative businesses.

Creative leaders often talk about “baking” creativity into their organisations.  In the same way, successful finance leaders seek to embed commercial acumen (not just financial, but also in areas such as leadership, communication and management) within the entire structure of the business.  The finance function in a talent-based business should be seen as an integrated part of the business, driving margin and accelerating growth through strong commercial direction.  Nurturing and developing the team’s commercial skills, managing finance resource in the same way that you would plan and manage creative talent, is as important to the long term success of a business as crunching the numbers is.  I work with a number of clients helping them to transform their management attitudes and financial processes to enable them to more successfully operate in rapidly changing client landscapes.  Engaging finance talent that strives to deliver value creation is a fundamental step in this process.  Value creation in this sense is derived from financial leadership that seeks to effect a cultural change within the business.   Successful CFOs increase effectiveness by training and developing their team, weaving commerciality into the fabric of the organisation.  Equipping the team with the skills required to drive margins and develop cost models to support the business as it achieves scale will result in transformational profit.

To develop more successful talent-based businesses, it is important to begin better utilising finance talent.  A successful CFO in a modern creative business needs to have two primary facets: commercial acumen that is aligned to future strategic objectives, and strong leadership that embeds commerciality into the organisation.   The most successful creative businesses are those that take the same exceptional approach to commerciality that they do to transformative creativity: they will build it into the ethos of the business, embedding solid commercial principles and attitudes throughout the culture of the organisation.

Originally published as a guest blog in the Red Hat Recruitment Members Area - visit the site here: