SCOPE vs. Excel – why ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough any more

“SCOPE just looks like a nice version of my Excel spreadsheet. Why would I switch when my existing process is good enough?” I’ve heard this comment enough times now to address it and write an answer to anyone else who might be asking the same question.

I understand the root of this question. You’ve doubtless spent many, many hours creating a clever and intricate Excel pivot table to accommodate the complexities of scoping. I can understand why it’s a wrench to part with something that’s probably been a real labour of love and/or source of bitter frustration.

My answer is in two parts: Because if you really look properly at the two side by side you’ll see that SCOPE is so much more powerful. Good systems enhance agency performance, replacing cumbersome, disconnected and error-prone admin processes that currently exist in most agencies. In response to the adage ‘if it isn’t broke…’ I say this: It might not be a broken, but it’s going to limit how fast you can go. It’s like comparing what you can achieve on a perfectly functional bicycle vs. a Harley Davidson.

And secondly, because the marketing industry is demanding so much more from agencies in terms of delivering value and ROI. To compete, leading agencies have realised that ‘good enough’ isn’t good enough anymore. To stay in the game, you’re going to need something more sophisticated than Excel.


Excel vs. using SCOPE. It’s a good place to start. When your agency relies on the revenue generated from client work, you can’t afford to be slow getting those opportunities scoped, agreed and booked into the studio. We’ve looked at the two processes side by side – scoping on Excel vs. using SCOPE. The difference in efficiency we found was 56%. This comes down to the way SCOPE is constructed. All scopes – active and historic – are visible in one place, the deliverables you need to assemble a scope of work are available at your fingertips, reviewing and approving takes place within the system (even clients can review and approve via the client portal) and all data is exported to a branded, formatted, client-facing document. Compare that to how you do things now – hunting for old scopes to copy and tweak (even if your filing system is really good – SCOPE is undeniably quicker.) or listing out time and materials from scratch each time. Searching, filing and chasing email threads for revisions and approvals from your colleagues and clients. Manually copying data from your Excel spread sheet to a client-facing scope of work document.

The difference in efficiency we found was 56%

Think about how long it takes you to do all that right now – and then multiply that by the number of scopes you manage every day/week/month. Now imagine it takes half the time. We can do that for you.

Accuracy and consistency

These two go hand in hand because more consistent scoping will lead to better accuracy. SCOPE allows you to track everything you’re selling and delivering in one place. For large agency networks, that’s invaluable. When your clients have access to procurement tools to compile and compare pricing across all their agencies, they have the power to track what they’ve bought from you. If your scoping processes are disconnected, it creates a power imbalance – i.e., your client has all the power to negotiate, and you have none. I’d compare using SCOPE to the principle of joined-up parenting – agree a standard across the board and stick to it so the kids can’t play you off against one another.

Something else that can be inconsistent across any agency, big or small, is the language you use. When data lives in silos it’s really hard to be consistent in the way you categorise and name your deliverables. Sure – work is often subtly different each time you do it but without a shared language, the same deliverable can end up named, planned and priced differently every single time – which can be a real profit leaker. SCOPE gives you an environment and a standard taxonomy so at least everyone is starting from the same place when scoping for the same deliverable

…on average, agencies undercharge by about 12-23%.

Another common challenge that spreadsheets won’t help with is getting pricing right in the first place. We’ve researched agency pricing based on a vast quantity of anonymised data and found that on average, agencies undercharge by about 12-23%. That comes down to a few factors; lack of knowledge on what things should cost, lack of knowledge of how much time is required, and again – inconsistent standards for pricing across the agency. How many times have you scoped a job only to find that plan very quickly goes awry once work begins? Unlike an Excel spreadsheet, SCOPE can tell you what a job should cost and how much time should be planned by which disciplines for each deliverable. When you’ve got a clever, data-driven library of deliverables and their component parts, you stop omitting important tasks that should be included in the original scope of work. Instead of policing timesheets to reduce profit leaks, the correct profit is baked into the work in the first place.

Another vitally important edge that SCOPE has over your spreadsheets is live, up-to-the-minute industry benchmarking data.

Your clients are one step ahead of you with systems like Decideware and Agency Mania, comparing prices so they can make a smart procurement decision. In the same way, SCOPE puts the power back into your hands by connecting you to the rest of the marketing industry. You can see how other agencies pricing are and planning the same work as you and base your commercial decisions on real information. Whether you choose to align with this information is up to you – you might be proud of the fact you’re 10x more expensive than everyone else. But I find it’s always better to know what your competitors are doing so that you can choose your position based on facts rather than just shooting blindly in the dark.

Visibility and control

Quite simply, if you can see what’s going on you can steer the ship better (I’m sure there’s a Titanic/iceberg analogy here if I work hard enough to find it.)

Instead of sitting in separate folders, all scopes of work are visible in one view and searchable via filters. Putting data in one place like this means you have immediate access to reporting. Getting a single view of the data in your scopes is virtually impossible when it’s hiding in different Excel files – and if you do go to the trouble of compiling that information, it’ll be immediately out of date. Don’t let Excel be the iceberg that sinks your Titanic efforts (there it is.)

A major pain point we’ve identified is when jobs go live and plans need to change. It’s an excruciating process trying to reallocate budgets and resources while keeping profit forecasts on track once a project is already in progress. We built a ‘Track and Trade’ feature in SCOPE so you can see what’s changed and quickly shift the plan without any of the usual headaches. You’re welcome.


For one agency we spoke with recently, this is one of the biggest wins; how to remove management bottlenecks and empower more of the team to be able to scope accurately. Historically, scoping is considered more of an art than a science and is often left to the most senior members of the team who know what’s been done before and the important bits to include. We’ve also seen cases where only one person knows how the scoping spreadsheet works. In response to that challenge, SCOPE gives you a set of standard, agency-agreed deliverables and components so that anyone with access could create a scope of work. The system also acts as a gatekeeper for you thanks to granular permissions per user so that more people in the agency can create and collaborate, safe in the knowledge that vital formula in the master spreadsheet won’t get deleted.


The ability to collaborate more easily in an online environment has never been more important in this new world of remote working. I’ve already mentioned the ability to create, review and approve scopes in one place – a valuable feature for any agency. Collaboration becomes an even larger scale challenge when we start looking at global networks where multiple agencies in a group are supporting a client together. It’s no surprise that the biggest global networks are prioritising their search for a better management system to tackle this problem right now. SCOPE manages intricacies and complex agency structures like an absolute boss. You can build groups and teams across agencies and regions, connecting them to support clients and brands while maintaining important barriers of confidentiality. Imagine a world where you can include different pricing models, currencies and rate cards from multiple regions in one scope of work for each of your clients. That’s what real collaboration looks like.


Integrating with your other business systems should be enough of a reason to switch from Excel to SCOPE on its own. Your spreadsheet doesn’t integrate with your workflow tool, your accounting package, your HR or sales software; SCOPE does. It also outputs scopes directly to beautifully branded and formatted client-facing documents for you. The efficiency this creates is transformative but just as important is the elimination of errors that you risk by manually re-entering data in multiple places. I saw £5,000 drop off a scope of work once because of a typo.

Clients want to buy value, not time

For about 20 years now, clients have slowly and steadily been moving away from labour-based agency contracts. They’re calling for new remuneration models to better understand what they’re buying and improve relations with you, their agency partners. Coca Cola were one of the first, and they regularly speak about the topic at conferences. The recent announcement that they’ve put all their media and marketing agencies on notice means there’s now $4.2bn on the table to be fought over in the New Year. Bearing in mind Coca Cola’s statement of intent to review their ‘creative planning and buying practices’, agencies who can demonstrate a data-led, value-focused remuneration model, supported by a robust scoping platform, will be in pole position.

As we move into 2021, we’re set to see more headlines about deliverable-based pricing models and the agencies that are making this shift. Most recently, Mindshare’s new CEO Adam Gerhart has committed to ‘evolve remuneration towards more outcomes-based models.’ We’re excited to see who will be next.

Clients looking for a more data-driven and outcome focused relationship with their agencies will inevitably be faced with a choice: To select an agency who still calculates hours and materials using Excel or one that creates consistent, fair, outcome-focused plans using SCOPE. We know where we’d hedge our bets; What type of agency will you be?

Let's talk about how we can help you to succeed