Blog Posts

Five Rules for Pursuing Project Work – Applies to Agencies of All Size

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Some firms don’t take project work at all, while for others project revenue vastly outstrips the income from their few ongoing clients. What’s the proper role of project work in your firm, and what’s the proper approach to pursuing or vetting it? In this article I lay out some specific guidelines on projects as a part of your overall client mix, and the rules of pursuing and accepting project work.

My own experience has been that the most profitable firms are the ones with what I would call ‘tighter’ client bases – fewer, more loyal clients who entrust their firm with a large percentage of their budgets, rather than breaking it up among many firms. Although I haven’t formally quantified this, it has been my experience that firms with higher volume of project work are busier but less profitable than their more AOR-focused counterparts. While I’m a firm believer in the idea of ‘fewer clients, more money,’ I recognize that for many firms project work is helpful at plugging capacity gaps. What follows are five rules on pursuing and accepting project work, and some final guidance on the mix of projects to longer term engagements.

Rule #1: Don’t Chase It

It may be okay (or even highly lucrative) to take project work, but, with few exceptions, most established firms shouldn’t be pursuing it. Your business development goals should be focused on replacing your outgoing clients with even better, more lucrative incoming clients, while striving to keep the ongoing client base at somewhere between eight and twelve clients. Through regular business development activities, and just by answering the phone, project work will come at you. Short of finding enough project work, your bigger challenge is probably saying no to the bad stuff, so don’t focus business development resources on an outreach program that targets project work. Project-based opportunities are a natural by-product of targeting larger ongoing engagements, but with rare exceptions, you should not be devoting business development outreach attention or resources to it.

Rule #2: Don’t Offer Incentives for It

Your business development incentives should be focused on rewarding personnel for managing the churn of on-going clients, and should not reward for project work. Discretionary bonuses for project work, at the end of the year, are okay, but keep the focus, and the incentives, on the larger ongoing clients.

Rule #3: Object to It

When a prospect inquires about project work, the first thing you want to do is remind him that you are not in the project business. “We’re not in the brochure business. We’re in the business of creating total brand experiences.” (As a broad hypothetical example.) “We often do brochures as part of that, but if someone’s just looking for a brochure we usually refer them elsewhere. Let me ask you, is your brochure part of a larger undertaking?”

If your efforts to uncover a more comprehensive need come up empty (“No, we just need a brochure,”) you still have the option to take the work. “Before I say no, let me ask you a few questions…”

If your questions into the project reveal it to be a potentially lucrative one, and you happen to have the capacity then perhaps this is a project worth considering. Either way, by leading with your objection (“We’re not in the brochure business”) you should have positioned yourself well if the project is indeed a desirable one. It’s now the prospect’s turn to talk you into waiving your no-project policy and taking this on. Remember that you reserve the right to retract every ‘no’ or every objection or obstacle that you place in front of the prospect. Creating these objections allows you to gauge whether or not he recognizes and values your expertise. As you begin your retreat from the opportunity does he follow, or does he let you walk away?

Rule #4: Don’t Compete for It

You’ve established with the prospect that you are not in the project business. You’ve questioned him further about the assignment and found that it is indeed well suited to your firm and could be quite lucrative. If the capacity to do the assignment is there then this might be a project worth taking. Before you remove the obstacle (“We don’t do projects”) make sure that every other potential obstacle to doing business is identified and addressed.

You don’t want to say, “Okay, we’ll do it,” only to hear, “Great – we’ll get back to you after we talk to three other firms,” or, “Good, I’ll send you the RFP.”

You might say, “If we did decide to waive our no-project rule and take this on, what would need to happen before we agreed to get started?” If you hear, “We would need to meet with the other firms and decide on one,” or “I need to get approval from my boss,” then your job is to direct the prospect to go do what he has to do, then come back to you for a decision on whether you will waive your no-project policy afterward. If the prospect tries to put you to work (responding to an RFP as an example) then politely send him on his way. You want to get to the point where the prospect says, “We’ve ruled out other firms – we’d prefer to work with you, and I have approval to hire you right now if you’ll accept the assignment.” Then and only then do you agree to remove the objection – your no-project policy, and take the assignment.

Rule #5: Don’t Take Tactical Work That Would Neuter Strategic Opportunity

You’ll often encounter a prospect who dangles a project in front of you as an opportunity to ‘test the fit’ before they commit to you. While it is perfectly appropriate for you to agree to take a small first step with a client in order to assess the fit for a larger engagement, a first step should be just that – a first step and not a sample twenty-fifth step. By this I mean start at the beginning, which is almost always your diagnosis of the problem, or your validation of the client’s own diagnoses. To jump right to project work that is based on a bunch of assumptions may offer insight to the client on what it would be like to work with your firm on a daily basis, but it will offer no insight into your more valuable (and lucrative) strategic problem solving skills. Further, you’ll have to do some form of strategic work (diagnose and prescribe) to be able to deliver a tactical solution, but you’ll do it without the client’s full involvement, without fully applying your methods, and without appropriate compensation.

In short, don’t agree to a tactical ‘test’ that will only position you as a tactician and impair your ability to get paid for the strategic engagements. You’re better to suggest a phased engagement that has the two parties begin at the beginning, with your diagnostic and strategic development processes. Offer an opt-out point somewhere between strategy and creative platform at which the client can walk away if they don’t like the fit, or the work you’ve produced. You can further sweeten the pot by adding a money-back guarantee for the first phase. Together, these steps allow you to begin at the beginning, charge fairly for your strategic work, and allow the client a test period and an escape clause with no financial risk.

Summing Up

It should be clear now that I am not advising you to decline all project work. Focus on the larger on-going assignments. Don’t offer incentives beyond discretionary year-end ones for project work. When the subject is broached, lead with the objection that you’re not in the project business, then search for a larger underlying opportunity. If the project seems like one you should take, make sure you get every other potential objection dealt with before you agree to take it. And finally, never put the cart before the horse and agree to take a tactical project as a test of a more strategic or total engagement.

A Healthy Project Mix

What should your revenue mix be – project-to-AOR? If your total project work represents more than 25%-30% of your revenue, I suspect you might be doing too much of it and impairing your ability to more lucratively position your firm as an expert advisor seeking more complete, longer term engagements.

Tips to Help Your Agency Manage Client Expectations

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Marketing Partenerships

by Jordyn Walters

The best client-agency relationships are built on trust and mutual understanding. When you take steps to manage client expectations from the get-go, you will maintain that strong relationship through the ups and downs that are bound to happen when marketing firms and clients team up. We are all human, after all.

Think back to the last client you brought onboard. More than likely you spent ample time preparing to win them over. This includes meetings, presentations, potential brand renderings, timelines, strategies, and budgets. You were living and breathing that client. And sure, when the good times are rolling, it’s a snap to keep the client relationship healthy and satisfied. But what about when that roll hits a speed bump? It takes experience and attentiveness to keep the trust going so you can maintain the client’s relationship and their expectations. Utilize the following tips to improve communication and manage the client:

1.       Stick to the agreed upon strategy.
The agency and client should always be on the same page. You are grabbing a one-way ticket to an uncomfortable conversation with your client when they are expecting one thing and you are expecting another. Everything that you do for them should be defined ahead of time so there is no confusion when the numbers start rolling in. For example, if the client has a different expectation of a certain goal than the agency does, it is only a matter of time before there’s a collision and the relationship gets a kink. Choose a strategy with the client and create a document that outlines everything. If you do this, you are less likely to receive pushback down the road.

2.       Don’t just have a client-agency relationship. Have a true relationship.
Not only is it more pleasant to meet and work with a client, but it makes the relationship that much stronger and understanding when you know the client on a personal level. Take the time to have interest in their lives, whether it’s their family life, their favorite places to eat in the area, or what makes them get up in the morning. Having a relationship built on more than business builds a foundation that allows for more accurate strategies and exceeded goals.

3.       Stay in control.
Remember, the client came to you for help. You should be steering the ship from day one. You’re the expert. Whenever a client feels like they need to keep tabs on their agency you are in danger of losing that trust and more importantly the respect for your expertise. Stay true to the strategy outline, be transparent, and absolutely communicate. Some clients may be more difficult to guide than others, but it is important to remember that you are the leader and the expert. Show your confidence and it will transfer to the client.

4.       Provide monthly reports of progress and success.

Oftentimes the client benefits more from seeing the big picture when they get tangible updates. As long as you are doing your job and the reports show movement every month, the client will appreciate having something tangible. Providing monthly summaries reminds the client of your value and the fruits of that labor. Even with constant communication, the lack of monthly reporting can mean the big picture gets lost in the shuffle. Before you know it, you’ll have angry client’s asking where that movement is. Still stay in contact regularly, but remember there is a great benefit to sending monthly analytics.

Do you have any tips for managing client expectations? Leave them in the comments below!

Four Steps To Lead Generation Success

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

by Blair Enns of Win Without Pitching

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” John Wanamaker

Amen, brother John. Amen. When it comes to the various ways a creative firm might generate leads at the top of their funnel, I’ll admit that for too long I’ve been guilty of saying “Do all these things… some of them are bound to work.”

Blogging. Speaking. Webinars. Outbound calling and emailing. Networking. The more you can do, the more leads you’re likely to generate. It’s hard to argue with the general principle but it’s reasonable to expect that someone like me who has seen the insides of hundreds of firms should have some theories for what works and what does not. I do now, but I’ll admit that it’s taken me an embarrassingly long time to tease out some of the patterns of effective lead generation.

Below are some principles for reducing the lead generation waste. Before I share them, allow me to reiterate my usual caveat about positioning: good marketing for something that has many substitutes isn’t good marketing at all. Marketing begins with assessing what is missing in the market and then matching a solution to that unmet need. If you don’t have something that is meaningfully different to some market segment then lead generation will always be difficult.

With that out of the way, here are four steps to building a simpler, more powerful and less wasteful lead generation program.

1. Bet On One Thing
If you had to bet all your chips on just one lead generation vehicle, on which would you bet? Put another way, if you were only allowed to undertake one activity or form of lead generation for years to come, which one would you choose? Few reply that they would smile-and-dial although that is what many have done for years. Most pick something that would drive inbound leads, like a blog, speaking, writing a book (or books). Some might launch a YouTube channel. Some a podcast. What One Thing would you do?

When I think of the firms that drive numerous inbound leads they all have one very clear thing they do. Their lead generation efforts are as focused as their positioning. They’ve resisted diluting their efforts across numerous channels, avoiding Warren Buffet’s admonishment that “Diversification is for people who don’t know what they are doing.”

To Buffet’s quote I will add my favourite from Peter Drucker. “In business, all profit comes from risk.” The rewards you seek (high-quality inbound leads) are more likely to come to you if you take some risk and bet on One Thing. Risk mitigation is at the root of lead generation inefficiencies. Focus more, take more risk, and do less.

Your One Thing should constitute between 60% and 80% of your lead generation resources of time and money.

2. Now Pair It With a Complementary Thing
Marshall McLuhan noted that media tend to travel in pairs. Newspapers deliver type. Television, video. The Internet can deliver type, video or audio. The same principle applies to your lead generation One Thing, albeit more loosely, like a complementary pairing of wine and food. If you choose to write books, as an example, it will pair nicely with speaking, or blogging. Perhaps the blog becomes the vehicle through which you write the book. Or the speeches are the now-easy-to-obtain platform that get you face to face with your prospects after the book is written.

The key though is to decide on the One Thing and then pick the second Complementary Thing that helps you achieve or leverage the One Thing. If you misuse the idea of a Complementary Thing to hedge your bet on the One Thing then you will just create more work for yourself and dilute your impact. It really is One Thing aided by a truly Complementary Thing. Once you get traction with your One Thing, numerous Complementary Things will present themselves to you and many will be easy to pull off. You are free to pursue them or to remain focused on your One and Complementary Things.

3. Strive To Own The Channel
When choosing your One Thing choose something that you can own or dominate. I know firms that have founded conferences, networks, radio shows and other lead gen channels in which they had such a massive presence that it just would not make sense for competitors to try to replicate or follow. To choose blogging in a field where everyone is blogging and a competitor is already dominant might not be the wisest decision. Seth Godin blogs and writes books. He decided against other social media because, in his words “I couldn’t be the best in the world at it.”

Another book on branding? Probably not ownable. If someone has already written the definitive book on your area of expertise perhaps you should look for another channel. If the space is crowded with books but none that truly stand out then sure, got for it, but you really have to have something new and meaningful to say.

One more smart, but not belief-rattling, blog on healthcare marketing? That field is crowded. A YouTube channel or virtual conference, however? Those might be easier to dominate.

There’s a nuance here that I won’t be able to fully explore in this brief post and it centres around the idea of perspective. Perspective–an over-arching point of view on the firm’s area of focus–is the final differentiator that separates a well-positioned firm from its few remaining direct competitors. If your perspective is strong enough (contrarian but still accessible) then you don’t have to seek to dominate a marketing channel in your market, you simply need to dominate that point of view within it.

With a strong contrarian perspective it may make sense to launch an assault on a larger competitor’s dominant channel with the goal not to replace them but to carve out a devoted niche and achieve “leading alternative” status.

4. Consider Leveraging Your Discipline
It’s interesting to note that advertising agencies almost never advertise, direct marketing firms almost never build formal direct-based lead gen programs for themselves, experiential marketing firms rarely create their own experiences to drive leads and while most public relations firms claim to get business through word of mouth, few employ a formal plan for themselves like the ones they might sell to a client. Only social media firms seem to embrace the discipline they trade in to drive their own leads.

In the Win Without Pitching program we have a full term dedicated to Closing With Case Studies–an approach that uses carefully built IP-based case studies to derail pitches and eliminate unpaid proposal writing. Using “process-framed case studies” to close this way is powerful, but it is even more powerful when you use your own firm as one of your case studies.

Put yourself in your potential client’s shoes for a minute: from whom would rather buy discipline X?

A) Someone who does not use it
B) Someone who uses it
C) Someone who uses it and can use their own firm as a case study for how they use it and why you should use it too?

Someone in category A will lose out to someone in category B most of the time, and will lose to someone in category C almost all of the time.

In summary, bet on One Thing. Then add a Complementary Thing. Strive to own the One Thing channel you select, and if you cannot own the channel strive for the leading alternative in the channel by owning a provocative point of view, one that’s contrary to that of the leader’s. Finally, if at all possible, make that One Thing the discipline that you sell or most often trade in. The combination will focus your efforts, reduce waste and make you far more compelling to your target market.

P.S. – Chuck writes “I have to admit; I was hoping Blair would be even more specific!”

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Meet 34 Advertising Agency Search Consultants

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts

By Peter Levitan

There are 34 advertising agency search consultants listed below. There are surely many more when you add in local and part time consultants.

Savvy search consultants generally act as personal shoppers for larger advertisers trying to locate the perfect agency out of hundreds, even thousands, of specific agency options. It is estimated that about 10% to 15% of all searches use the services of a consultant (I am thinking about dollar volume not total agency searches.) I suspect that the number of consultant led pitches is well over 50% for clients that have large budgets, complicated accounts (think global ala Microsoft’s recent search) and now, highly specialized agency requirements.

SHOULD YOUR AGENCY CONTACT SEARCH CONSULTANTS?

Should your agency contact the search consultants on this list? Yes and no.

Here is the drill. Most of these consultants work for larger clients and they have hundreds of agencies to keep track of. They get lots of incoming from agencies every day — see the interviews below. Based on my 28 years of conversations with search consultants, I can tell you that most of the incoming agency information gets ignored even in a fast paced world where consultants need to keep abreast of the agency universe. Why? Agencies get ignored because most agencies do not really have a realistic reason to get on the consultant’s radar.

Realistic? Consultants are primarily interested in a core set of agency attributes. Obviously, they are looking for agencies that match their current searches. However, in general, any new agency (new to market or new to them) needs to have some distinctive attribute to get a consultant’s attention. That means having a good reason for these busy consultants to pay attention to you. What might that mean?

Here are some examples of what I would get my attention if I were a consultant:

Are you seriously creative (like really creative and can prove it?)
Have you been discovered by the trade press?
Can your agency handle really large, complex accounts?
Do you have international offices?
Did your team just leave a hot agency where you’all did famous work?
Do you have media planning and buying expertise?
Do you have demonstrable digital expertise? You can’t just say we do social media. Did you crack mobile advertising?
Do you have deep experience in an important client category?
Are you known for your strategic chops?
Is your name as ignore-free as Barton F. Graf 9000?
Get the picture?

The bottom line is that you need to think about what agency attributes will be of value to the consultant. Do you have some special sauce that a consultant needs to know about for their business and clients? Before you make any contact, please take the time to understand what search consultants look for.

For the full list, follow this link:

Note: All if not the majority of these consultants are hired by the client and paid by the client. They should never solicit agency payment to participate in a review nor should they charge for being in their database (if they have one). Payment from both sides is “double-dipping” and unethical. In order to afford these consultant fees, the client needs to be dealing with a significant budget and at that, will be looking for agencies with capitalized billings some 3 to 4 times that budget. In most cases, smaller agencies are wasting their time hoping for consideration.

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The agency finder Process. A New Writer writes …

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts

If you are part of an advertising agency looking to sign up with an agency finder service, there are certain steps that you can take to help get in the client line. A new business development program is not the only option to finding new clients, and it is also not the only way to find new clients. Many reputable advertising agencies have partnered with agency finders to help make contact with clients that are the perfect fit.

An agency finder works similar to other finders or hunters you may have heard of or experienced before. Apartment finders and head-hunters are similar businesses that work in a matchmaker way. As certainly are eHarmony.com and Match.com. Even the best, most experienced high quality agencies are subject to slow failure without clients and need to sustain their business. Therefore, it is important that agencies have a shoulder to lean on that helps their business flow and stay stable.

There are steps that need to be taken for an agency to become a part of an agency finder. To be the best prepared for such an occurrence, the process typically starts with filling out a profile. The agency will create a standard or lengthy profile; the best have more than 500 fields. While this may seem time consuming, it is simple and a small price to pay to get your agency’s name out there. Example database fields that you’d fill out for your profile include industry and market experience, billing options, agency services, location and the area you serve, employee census, and media experience.

When a client searches for their new agency, they normally select from sample fields to find their perfect match. This is why it is important that all fields of the profile be filled out accurately. After this, an agency finder and the client will discuss optional agencies together, and look through your agency’s case studies and other submitted profile essays that include strengths, philosophies, and creative approaches.

Whenever the time comes for the client to choose, an agency finder will contact the chosen marketing agency and inform them that they are invited to reach out and hold their telephone interview with the client. Registered agencies will then need to become “fee-paid” (if not already) where those fees are annual or initial. They will vary based on the client budget. Considering there will be ample business and income gained from agency finder introductions, agencies should rest easy that their investments are not wasted.

Remember, an agency should never feel obligated to work with a client and a client should never feel obligated to work with an agency. Declining an offer is entirely up to each party. Do be considerate in the time you take to decide however. More than likely there is another marketing agency or public relations firm waiting on your answer to learn if they have now made the cut.

Guest author – Jordyn Walters

Check out what makes AgencyFinder so different:
http://www.agencyfinder.com/about/what-is-agencyfinder/

How Agencies Can Achieve 3.0 Status – Simplicity and the ‘Four Ts’ will help them evolve

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Marketing Consultancy

By  as appeared in ADWEEK

The advertising industry has never been hit as hard as it’s being hit today. It’s facing economic, technological and even geopolitical disruption across the board. Add the complicating factors and steep learning curves around new tech-driven touch points—artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, voice command, chatbots—and you can see why marketers are scrambling for footing and pushing their agencies to prove their value. The unprecedented volume of advertising budgets—more than $30 billion—that has recently changed hands during what many referred to as “Mediapalooza” is a clear indicator of this disruption.

It’s no secret the agency model needs to evolve. As an advisor to some of the world’s biggest brands on priorities ranging from organizational transformation to agency reviews and client-agency “therapy sessions,” I have a front-row seat to what marketers want and need from their agency partners—a new set of skills and capabilities best represented by what Adweek has dubbed “Agencies 3.0.” RFPs today solicit competencies that reach beyond the traditional agency mandate and include integrated content and distribution strategies, greater operational agility, transparency, data science and analytics, and programmatic expertise.

Those requirements might seem like a tall order, but there are a few things agencies can do to meet them. The first is simple: simplify. Agencies can flatten their structures and tear down silos that separate integral disciplines. Agencies 3.0 demand a rebundling of disciplines that were historically unbundled—creative, media and analytics. Creative and media practices should be built upon a strong data and analytics foundation and be woven closely together.

In one recent pitch, the client demanded a truly integrated approach to media and creative, intricately linked to one another and built upon insights in near real time. Look to Omnicom’s McDonald’s win last year for another clear example of an astute Agencies 3.0 approach weaving together content, data, strategy and social through one aperture. And it’s not just McDonald’s.

Honda recently returned its media buying assignment to RPA to more fluidly synchronize content production. Other recent industry moves indicate the demand for new agency configurations as a real and growing trend. According to Advertiser Perceptions, 64 percent of U.S. brands will review their media agencies in 2017.

Recalibrating to become an Agency 3.0 also requires a killer content strategy. Marketers spent more than $72 billion on TV ads in 2016, but they spent just as much on digital content across Facebook, Google, Instagram, YouTube, Amazon and other content-distribution platforms. In one recent agency review, the client specifically focused on the creation, distribution and ultimate monetization of content. They didn’t want to merely create their own content; they wanted to profit from it. In a world in which everyone is a content creator, Agencies 3.0 help clients maximize the value of that content.

A third, and perhaps most critical, requirement for Agencies 3.0 is transparency across all economic elements of the client-agency relationship. In the past month, the world’s largest marketer, P&G, announced a review of all agency contracts—but it’s not alone. In fact, according to the World Federation of Advertisers, or WFA,” a trade body that represents brands including L’Oréal, Emirates and P&G, 90 percent of advertisers are taking a closer look at contracts to demand more transparency. Agencies 3.0 are going to have to be accountable as marketers demand more granularity around every element of their investment and agency compensation in media, production, staffing and technology.

Finally, Agencies 3.0 will have to be savvy to what MediaLink calls the “Four Ts”: trust, technology, talent and time.

Trust: At its core, the agency-client relationship is a partnership. Metrics should be verifiable, and ROI and operating costs should be transparent. These are fact-based conversations.

Technology: Tech fluency is table stakes in a world where the explosion of devices, platforms and innovation have forever transformed the way consumers receive content and messaging.

Talent: Our industry runs on people and competes on talent. In the past two years alone, the ad industry has lost approximately a quarter of its global talent to competing industries. Marketers tell us they need more “athletes,” meaning those who can deliver, or orchestrate, multidisciplinary solutions across the data, tech, media, marketing and monetization of it all. That won’t happen if we can’t attract, train and retain more and smarter people across the board.

Time: “Always on” is an overused, yet under-appreciated phrase. Consumers are tech-empowered, device-rich and content-weary. Agencies 3.0 run at the speed of people.

It may feel daunting to stand at the starting line and see the finish so far away. But agencies are resilient, and they are packed with smart, creative thinkers accustomed to solving big problems for their clients. Now agencies need to turn that brainpower inward to resolve their own challenges, and speed is of the essence. The same changes that have rapidly and dramatically reshaped our clients’ industries require agencies to move quickly to fortify their own before they are swept away.

Lesley Klein is a managing director at MediaLink.

An Open Letter to Marketers Considering an Ad Agency Review

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Agency Search Tips, Blog Posts, RFP Writing Tips

Great advice for marketers and agencies – read both and take notes!

This just popped up in AdAge Thursday February 23rd and I have to say, it’s one of the best, most common sense approaches and executions of an agency review I’ve read in a long tome. It’s great fodder for client and agency alike and certainly highlights the time, energy, financial investment and necessary dedication it takes to participate in an agency review. Feel free to comment if you have something to share.

by Michael Fanuele – Before becoming a client, I spent more than a dozen years at ad agencies around the globe, working as a brand strategist, trying my best to help our clients crack opportunity wide-open. But honestly, most of my time was spent diving in deep on dozens of pitches. That’s one of the many secrets of ad agencies: their shoulders are generally pushing against the Sisyphean boulder of new business, doing everything to win bigger and braver clients. It’s thrilling, exhausting work.

And so I knew very well the massive commitment of time and treasure I was demanding of ad agencies when, as chief creative officer at General Mills, I called a review of our creative partnerships last year.

Although McCann and Saatchi & Saatchi had served our brands so well for so long (more than half a century in the case of the former), a shake-up seemed in order. The brutal stress of our business … (Continue Part One and Part Two below)

Part One: http://adage.com/article/viewpoint/open-letter-clients-ad-agency-review/308002/?utm_source=agency_email&utm_medium=newsletter&utm_campaign=adage&ttl=1488570692&utm_visit=102073

Part Two: http://adage.com/article/viewpoint/open-letter-clients-ad-agency-review-part-2/308050/

 

The Ultimate Test of Your Positioning

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

When we’re working with owners of independent creative firms on the positioning of their firms, we separate the exercise of choosing a focus, from the exercise of articulating a claim. The first is an act of sacrifice, which most people in the creative professions struggle with (even more so than the average business owner, I believe), and the second is an act of communication, something creative professionals revel and delight in.

The problem, I think you will agree, is obvious.

As coaches, our job is to politely point out when we see someone trying to gloss over a lack of courage in their positioning with slick language. One way we do this is to have a discussion about standards.

When it comes to positioning a creative firm, the principal might put forward a positioning claim of energizing tired brands, or working with challenger brands, or building cult brands. All these are examples of broad, quasi-nebulous claims that are possible to stake out, in theory anyway, but are almost never lived up to. The proof, and the problem, is in the application of standards, or lack thereof.

The standards I’m talking about when it comes to positioning are the standards of client qualification. For whom does it make sense for you to work and for whom does it not make sense for not to work?

Four Criteria

Positioning is a forward-looking exercise about targeting future business in an area where you have, or are building, deep expertise. Proper positioning however, will attract opportunity from outside of your target market. From time to time it may make sense to take those opportunities, provided they meet four criteria:

  1. You have the capability – you can do the work
  2. You have the capacity – you wouldn’t be displacing better-fit clients (you would essentially be selling excess capacity)
  3. You can do it profitably
  4. You don’t have to compete for it

It’s not necessarily a bad thing to take work outside of your area of focus if it meets these criteria. (I’ve written about this more fully in Expanding Your Expertise and On Project Work.) Most firms are pretty good about adhering to the first three criteria but many fail at the fourth, where the proof of your positioning is really measured: by your enforced standards around the work that you will and will not compete for.

Examples of False Claims Laid Bare

A firm that claims to focus on challenger brands competing for work with Coca Cola. An experiential design firm competing on a branding assignment. An internal comms firm pitching for an ad campaign. These are all examples of a lack of standards which expose the positioning as just an exercise in language, nothing but a spun phrase.

Narrowing your focus is supposed to force you deeper into your chosen area of expertise. The goal of positioning is not to go narrow, it’s to go deep. Narrow is simply the path to depth.

Every competitive opportunity that is brought to the table (or created in the CRM application) should be vetted against the firm’s positioning, with the question posed: “Would winning this business increase our perception as experts in our declared field or decrease it?”

Again, the crime is not in doing this work, it’s in competing for it. By competing for work outside of your focus you tell your people and your market that yours is not really an expert firm at all, it’s one more generalist spinning another story of expertise.

An enforced policy or standard on the clients and engagements for which you will and will not compete is the realest application of your business strategy, which, in the creative professions, we call positioning. A firm that does not enforce this standard has no strategy, is not well positioned, and everybody knows it.

Thanks Blair!

Why Your Positioning Problem Doesn’t Go Away

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Our post today is compliments of our friend Blair Enns @ Win Without Pitching

Positioning the firm is the most fundamental act of leadership, and yet in many firms it remains largely undone, even after much effort and investment. I think I finally understand why, and it turns out I may have been no small part of the problem.

Work Undone
Creative firms are businesses, sharing a host of challenges common to all businesses. There are some challenges however that they seem to struggle with more than the average business, and positioning the firm is the prime example. While an increasing number of firms are getting their positioning right, the norm is that most agency principals still see their positioning as something they need to fix, even after working on it for a long time.

David C. Baker and I ran the three-day New Business Summit every year for ten straight years. I was always impressed that people would return, sometimes for consecutive years. I assumed that they laid the positioning foundation in their first year (we spent all of day one on positioning) and then came back again to focus more on the sales-based curriculum that built on a solid positioning. One year however, an agency principal who was attending for the third straight year said to me, “I’m finally getting my head around this positioning thing.”

Three years, nine days out of the office and who knows what else in the way of reading, thinking, working with outside consultants and perhaps attending other conferences and seminars, and the fundamental business strategy of this small business was still undeclared and uncertain. I can’t say this is the norm, but what I’ve seen over the years is the firm’s positioning (the business’ strategy) is usually something the principal thinks is “not there yet.” This is the most fundamental act of leadership and yet in the creative professions it remains chronically undone.

The Million Dollar Question: Why?
I’ve written many times about why positioning is more difficult for the creative mind (short answer: creative people are drawn to variety and therefore resist focus and the repetition it implies) but what I want to explore here is not the people who avoid the challenge of positioning their firms, but those who embrace the challenge, take on the hard work and difficult decisions and still do not get it done. They try, they really do, but they remain broad generalists trying to pull off way too much without much credibility, all while the world around them specializes and their more narrowly-focused competitors hoover up the most lucrative opportunities.

The answer to why, I believe, is two-fold.

Outside Help is Often Required
First, I’ve observed that firms that don’t nail their positioning quickly are not likely to at all without outside help. There are a number of possible reasons for this, including an inability to get team members onside, uncertainty of the most appropriate area of focus or just giving up after the results don’t come as quickly as expected.

Yes, you might be in the business of positioning your clients’ brands but there’s a reason surgeons don’t operate on themselves, lawyers don’t defend themselves and stylists don’t cut their own hair. Some things require an outside perspective.

The Decisions, And Struggle, Cannot Be Delegated
The second part of our answer might seem to contradict the first part: while an outside perspective is invaluable, the work has to be yours or you will not be fully invested in the decision.

We are a sales training company and our training program begins with an exploration of the firm’s positioning. Back when I was a sales consultant I likewise always began with positioning. “Let’s fix what it is you’re selling before we focus on making you a better salesperson,” was, and remains, my philosophy. Back then however I saw positioning as a problem for which I would quickly deliver a solution to my client. “Position the firm like this. Now let’s go.”

We would get it done quickly and move on to how to sell this new value proposition. It’s only clear to me now how rarely that new value proposition stuck. A client from my consulting days explained recently. “When you came in to work with us, we started with positioning, made some quick progress, but then you moved on and we started regressing almost immediately.”

That client is now a Win Without Pitching coach who was marvelling at how well her clients nail and stick to their positioning in our training program, compared to her team’s failure (ultimately my failure) to do so when working with me in a different form. It’s clear that she is a better coach than I am but beyond that it’s the structure that’s different, which leads me to conclude that while positioning is difficult to do on your own without outside assistance, it is also not a problem that can be solved by an outsider.

“While positioning your firm is difficult to do without outside help, it cannot be done for you.”

Required: Struggling Down a Well-Lit Path
My coaches are better at using our curriculum to help their clients’ position their firms because they see the positioning challenge as their clients’ and not theirs. I think my pride in wanting to be the person with the answers has long gotten in the way of my clients’ success. I see now that you, the principal of the firm, need to struggle, and own the struggle. By struggle I don’t mean grope blindly in the dark. It’s our job to show you the path, so you’re never doubting the steps or direction, and to offer the occasional hand as you walk it, but I now know that if you don’t walk it yourself and struggle while doing so there will be no meaning in the destination at the end.

I think this contradiction of the difficulty of doing it alone and the emptiness of having someone else do it for you is at the heart of why so many principals struggle at positioning their firms, even after so much effort and investment. They exhaust themselves on the problem and then bring in someone else, who, with the benefit of an unemotional, outside perspective, says “Here, this is the answer.” Those easily won solutions however are also easy to throw away when they don’t bear fruit immediately. When you’ve followed a process you trust and you’ve laboured over the decisions, when you’ve laid awake at night weighing the sacrifices, exploring the options and permutations and you finally come to the decision on your own that yes, “we are going to stand for this from now on,” that you are going to put all your chips on one narrow, consolidated strategy, that is when the decision is a meaningful one, more likely to stick – when it’s yours at the end of a long struggle.

Ah, But The Doubt Still Creeps In
But even then you will have doubts, and I think maybe that’s the last piece of the puzzle here. My consulting engagements typically began with a remote audit, in which I ‘solved’ the positioning problem, followed by two intense onsite training days backed up with some remote support. In our program today we spend twelve weeks on positioning (if that seems long, you might not fully appreciate the steps required) and then we’re with you for the rest of the year as you build on this positioning, developing a lead generation plan and intellectual property specific to it. By the end of the year, you’re invested!

From Answers to Questions
There are two types of consultants, according to my Canadian Association of Management Consultants guidebook: subject matter experts and process experts. If I’m fully honest, I’ll admit that when I read those words years ago I saw myself as a subject matter expert and I felt myself to be superior to the process experts. (Far superior – I didn’t even see process knowledge as real expertise at all. Rather, I viewed it like B2C creative firms used to view B2B firms: the domain of those not good enough to do the real work.)

Having the answers, I felt, was the height of expertise. Sixteen years and hundreds of engagements later, I now see that when it comes to positioning your firm and so many other issues, for the answers to stick they have to be yours, and they have to be hard-won. The key to your success is in the struggle that I long thought I could make go away. Of course you have to have complete faith in the path as you struggle, and it’s helpful to have others to lean on as you travel it, but there is no success without the struggle. Our job is to show the way, ask some tough questions, lend some occasional support and guide you further as you translate that decision into the tools for success, building your investment in your decision to the point where you are fully committed, and success becomes inevitable.

Then your positioning work will be done.

Here’s the positioning path we have our clients take.

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You Can’t Teach People To Sell By Teaching People To Sell

Written by ChuckMeyst2015 on . Posted in Blog Posts, Business Development

Why are so few salespeople highly successful? Why do talented, intelligent people, with outstanding products and excellent training, still plateau well beneath their potential?

In fact, many more salespeople fail than succeed, with less than a quarter typically reaching high sales levels. Just teaching someone product knowledge, sales skills, and activity-management processes, although necessary, won’t cause the person to sell successfully.

That’s because up to 85 percent of success in selling is rooted in feelings, attitudes, emotions and beliefs. Yet most sales training fails to take these critical factors into account, and as a result, most sales training ultimately fails the people (and the organizations) it’s supposed to be helping.

So say Sales & Marketing Management, in offering a Webinar to explore practical, proven ways of training professionals and sales managers to influence behaviors and attitudes that lead to higher levels of productivity and better bottom-line results. (Note: That’s easy to say; much more difficult to resolve).

I suggest an even more important bottom line. It takes a certain “personality-type” to sell, to be prepared for what a salesperson experiences. The prospect’s failure to listen, the rejection, mistrust and suspicion. The incredibly long lead-times from introduction to close. The jigs & jags along the way. An introvert can become a successful outgoing comedian; we’ve all heard about their introverted off-stage personalities. But an introvert seldom succeeds at sales if what they need to do day-in and day-out is in conflict with their basic areas of comfort. Within the agency world, many are educated in creativity and expression. Ironically, few ever receive training in new business development. In my experience, creative personalities struggle to fare well in a leading new business development role. But there’s hope; that’s not to say they wouldn’t fare well in a presentation role.

The lesson?  Don’t try to fit a square peg in the round hole of sales.

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