Building a commercially focused agency

Mediablaze logo

Mediablaze is a digital experience agency based in London, with a headcount of around 25. Founded in 2010, they are part of the Hearst family.

Peter McQueen has been Finance Director at Mediablaze from 2017 to 2021.

"Synergist is central to everything we do. Without it, we wouldn't have had the level of success we've had."

Peter's mission

In 2017 Peter was brought in with a mandate to drive improvements in profitability and raise the commercial focus of the agency. In his words:

“I quickly identified a number of areas where we could be performing better to improve financial performance. I had also inherited an integrated project management/finance system which I wasn't a fan of from the moment I started using it.

"I asked for feedback from all the different departments, client services in particular as they use it most. It transpired that, for various reasons, no-one liked it."

"For me, the finance element was clunky. The process of producing reports or sending emails wasn't straightforward and it was very inefficient.

"It made sense to see other systems out there. We did a lot of research and made a shortlist of three or four.

"One of those was Synergist. It had the best user interface. Many products were strong in one or two areas of functionality, but were either weak in others or the functionality was simply limited or non-existent."

Mediablaze office

Raising the commercial awareness

Team commercial awareness makes a big difference to the daily decisions made at every level of the agency, particularly affecting the drive for profitability and growth. But Peter found this awareness was lacking in places.

"Commercial awareness did not flow through all the departments of the agency as I'd have liked.

"We do have jobs that are over-serviced for various reasons. We've got really nice clients that we don't want to lose. It's that juggling act, isn't it?

"Client services people naturally want to keep a client happy and don't want awkward conversations around additional costs."

"There are a number of things that I've done to make the agency more profitable. But the main thing is we can report on over-servicing so we can take action. There's absolutely no doubt that bringing in Synergist has really helped us ensure we've got the right financial controls in place.

"Synergist data helps us be proactive instead of waiting until the end of the period or project to realise that we didn't do as well as we could. We can compare the rate of completion to the percentage of costs burned, providing an accountability to client services that we didn't have before.

“Since adopting Synergist, the team are definitely more commercially minded."

Mediablaze work for Timberland

Mediablaze work for Timberland

More accurate quoting

"We've got some good controls in place where client services will build their estimates and upload certain documents.

"When client services are building opportunities into the system, there’s a minimum target net profit percentage they need to align to before a quote is presented to the client and, with all fingers crossed, converted to a ‘live’ job on acceptance of the quote."

"I’ve created a spreadsheet to work out what our cost per hour is for each member of staff. We review this regularly and feed it into Synergist. This means when we're quoting we've got the right internal cost per hour in the system.

"We'll then run through our checklist, lock the estimate, and convert that opportunity to a job so the team can start working on it, posting their timesheets and raising purchase orders."

Aligning estimates with actual time

"It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because everybody’s busy, the agency is bound to be thriving. Not so. If there are mismatches between estimates and reality, the agency simply won’t deliver on its potential.

"I run reports on project progress in various ways. In particular, one is comparing the estimated time and costs vs the actuals during the projects.

"We'll run a report based on the rate of completion and compare it to the percentage of the estimated costs that have been burned already."

"This produces a traffic light system. Green means great, the rate being burned is either in line with or below the rate of completion.

"Amber is where the cost burned exceeds the rate of completion, but the cost burned is still under 100%.

"And then we have the red flag, which is where the costs are over 100% of the estimated cost. It allows the account manager to explain what’s going on there, but it also gives them the opportunity to try to manage that job as efficiently as possible from that point on, because we're losing margin."

"For example, we might have a job that's 50% complete, but we’ve burned 70% of the estimated costs. It gives us a nice snapshot of each project and how aligned the costs are with the rate of completion.

"Each account manager is provided with the reports. It makes people think about what they're doing. Now, they're already thinking about it before the report arrives.

"Now, the reports have a lot more green in them. When we started doing these reports, there were certainly more ambers and reds than I was happy with!"

Mediablaze work for Volvo

Mediablaze work for Volvo

Improving month-end accuracy

“Synergist has made some massive changes to our month-end. We take the sales invoice reports from the system for reconciliation so we can be 100 per cent certain that we've invoiced everything based on schedules and they’re completely accurate.

"And obviously, a big part of it is around recognising the correct revenue and making sure I'm accruing the costs associated with that revenue.

"Even stuff like being able to generate a report on all of the POs that have been raised into the purchase invoices. Things like that mean we can accurately create our schedule of accruals.

“I can only do that with a good system and Synergist provides me that data to be able to run an accurate month-end.

“I can usually wrap month-end up in about five working days as a result.”

Mediablaze client Speedo

Mediablaze work for Speedo

Boosting profit-and-loss forecasting

“I've recently introduced a new report from Synergist data which is a snapshot of every single project we have on the go at any point.

"It shows rates of completion and the values already recognised as revenue within the accounts up to the very last minute."

“I send it to client services so they can see exactly where they are. Based on their best estimate, they enter their values and how they think each project is going to be delivered. This allows me to provide a much more accurate rolling profit-and-loss forecast.

"Since Covid, my focus and attention has been on the bigger picture. I'm constantly running rolling profit-and-loss and cash-flow forecasts."

Getting the right resource in place

"We look at what the utilisation looks like per employee, and set targets accordingly. We're also looking to the pipeline to see what kind of work we may win, to make sure we have the right resources in place.

"I imagine as with most agencies when we get a lead we're going to follow it up. Ideally, it’s within the sectors that we specialise in, but we don't always know what type of work the prospective clients want and need. It can swing from one discipline to another. For me, that is quite a big challenge because internal resources are the biggest cost in the business.

"The data from Synergist helps with hiring and resource allocation decisions."

W3 Club

Mediablaze work for W3 Clubs

A central platform that drives success

"Compared with where we were a few years ago regarding commercial awareness, financial controls and processes, and maximising profit potential, we are in great shape. Synergist has played a key part in that from a project management perspective."

"Synergist has all the features we need to run our agency. Everybody knows how to use the system and the agency runs smoothly from that perspective.

"The platform is central to everything we do. Without it, we wouldn't have had the level of success we've had."


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