Sydney L!VE - Virginia Hyland on scaling her own agency

By Ruby Derrick | 23 May 2023
Virginia Hyland. Photo by Tim Levy

Vrgrinia Hyland, CEO of Havas Media Group, spoke at AdNews Sydney Live about scaling and building her own agency, Hyland. 

In an increasingly sophisticated advertising landscape, Hyland shared the hallmarks of developing a media agency with the values and philosophies she lives by.

“It was kind of a bit of an accident - I worked in publishing for 12 years, and I would engage with brands and agencies,” she said.

“I was pitching for work, writing proposals and competing with other publishing houses and cold calling…one of the biggest blessings.”

Hyland said her one of her first jobs at the Sydney Morning Herald was to make cold calls everyday, becoming the foundation for her ability to sell and engage with future clients.

“When I was about 26, I was the ad manager of Womens Day, and I realised all the leaders above me who were women never got promoted,’ said Hyland.

After recognising that this couldn’t be the end of the road for her, Hyland figured she’d learnt as much as she could on how to engage clients, how to sell and pitch. 

“I decided to build on my own knowledge and I joined a small, indie media agency called Media Tactics,” said Hyland.

“I realised you don’t make money just staying in corporate life.”

About a year into her journey in a small media agency, learning the craft of television, radio and all the areas she hadn’t experienced before, the company went bust.

It was then that Hyland credits she learnt to not have all her eggs in one basket. It was either publishing or going out on her own venture from there.

“I thought, there’s a gap in the market at the time and there weren't very many media agencies that were independent,” she said.

“There was nobody who could really service those one million and two million dollar clients well, and really commit to them.

“One gap was there no were females leading big or small agencies - not one. There were plenty of brands out there that wanted to engage in female audiences.”

Hyland started cold-calling and pitching media agencies.

“I was lucky enough to have a few people actually recommend me,” said Hyland.

“I then pitched on Coty, which is a fragrance and beauty brand, and I pitched up against two agencies. They appointed me and are still with me today after six pitches."

She credits Coty to her success and her time in publishing in how she collaborates with and encounters partners. 

“The great thing about that time, when I was pitching on Coty and other powerful brands, people would think ‘she doesn’t have the buying power' or 'she isn’t worthy'," said Hyland.

“What I knew from the the publishing world is that it's about how you engage with your partners, how you explain your journey and the challenges that you’re having.”

At the forefront of her working values is treating her partners well, says Hyland. She said there is whole network of people required to support success. Those initial clients who trusted her became the catalyst to build her agency as an independent. 

“With those three clients who trusted me, I started my own agency, Hyland,” she said. 

“My first two hires were the most terrifying time of my existence. What was really interesting looking back was how important the client relationships were today.

“Thankfully the clients did stick around; when they moved companies, I moved with them.”

Treating clients with care and looking after them has meant Hyland has been able to grow organically. As she grew to a mid-size agency, her threat became her buying power ability and her capacity to compete.

“At that point in time I decided to partner with a global company for the better buying power and greater access to other peoples thoughts. 

“What was important for me was to recognise my risk and do something about it.”

Hyland’s ability to adapt and remain honest was fundamental in staying successful and alive as a business. 

“The way though is to have complete honesty about where you are in your journey - where are your gaps?, how are you going to change that?”

“So many times I’ve been told, ‘you’ll never make it, you won't be able to retire until you’re 80'… you can't let that information seep in. Don’t question whether you’re worthy.

“You have to have self confidence in believing that the things you thought were not possible, are.”

Hyland said an entrepreneur must be able to make hard decisions regarding whether their business is sustainable in the future.

“If you can’t make hard decisions, your company will fail,” she said.

“Sometimes tough decisions are to be made to protect the company, and they may not sit well with you. 

“You have to have the courage to make those decisions and the courage to know that they may come with failure,” said Hyland. 

In terms of the criteria of success and how she came to be acquired, Hyland says it’s important to work alongside people who value hard work and support.

“Build a team of believers, who are committed to the journey - the highs and the lows.You can’t do it without them so take them on that journey," said Hyland.

She says the perception of one’s agency is critical to success and how to create opportunity. Powerful reputation is paramount, says Hyland, noting it's not just about money and profit, but also a good reputation. 

“Take your financials seriously, you aren’t just running an agency, you’re running a business," she said.

“They can trip you up at any time if you don’t. Its a fine line between success and failure always."

Hyland said the reason she came to sell her agency was a result of the technology threats emerging at the time back in 2018. 

She decided it was time to look at either being acquired, selling or choosing to partner with someone else.

“I got talking with Mike Wilson at Havas, we had a client wanting to build their website so we tried together”

“We like each other and the teams liked each other - we had fun together.

“They were entrepreneurial; it just felt right. It wasn’t just about the money, it was about if they loved my clients as much as I do,” she said.

Hyland sold the agency at the price she told them she would sell it for, she didn’t settle when they made an offer.

“It was the end of a big era in my life - building that agency from scratch,” she said.

“Am I in the right place now? - yes. It’s a new challenge for me and I’m excited about it. That’s my story.”

Thank you to our supporting partners: AMOBEE/UNRULY , Foxcatcher, PubMatic, StackAdapt. Associate partners: blis, JUSTEGGS, MIQ, Quantcast. And friend of AdNews: IMAA.

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