Why in the world would you embark on an agency search at a time like this when you’re busy keeping 6 feet distant and washing your hands? We’ve all been holding our breath, waiting for this Corona virus to pass. We’ve been asked to wait, to shelter-in-place to see if we could slow the transmission and contagion of this “silent killer.” And for the majority, we’re all working from home or an empty office.
As they say, these are trying times. Opinions will vary, but we’ve had a chance to witness how our agencies hold up under great duress. We’ve been the receptor of their plans for now and when the silent killer is gone. President Trump postulates the economy will vault back, maybe even better than it was. Under the circumstance, what advice has your agency, be it advertising, digital or public relations offered in the way of suggested strategy and action for that time?
If your agency came forth with definitive suggestions, with actions to stay the course, great! However, if their inaction or failure to lead is the straw that broke the camel’s back (a pre-Corona expression), you may have decided it’s time for a replacement agency.
You’re right, this isn’t the time for extensive travel, and high-touch, kum ba yah gatherings and presentations. But it’s the perfect time to begin identifying your agency candidates. So begin by identifying those in your organization who should play a role in the process. Solicit their thoughts for attributes, characteristics, personalities and then compile that information. Specifically, what category experience should they have? In your vertical or aligned others? What about services, location, size, years in business or memberships? And in case you haven’t encountered it or given it pause, what about conflicting accounts?
Now take your finished list and go looking. Google is too imprecise so don’t be tempted unless you’re prepared to do tons of work. Better to go to those that have already done the heavy lifting. At your command you have “directories” and “database services.” With directories, think “Yellow Pages.” Data ordered primarily by alpha and location. You navigate as you see fit. Database services utilize on-board search engines that you use to specify, then discover who in their database satisfies your criteria. Some will even handle the challenging task of preparing and sending invitations. A few popular directories include Agency Spotter, Ad Forum and Clutch. Agency Match and our AgencyFinder are databases and somewhat lonely in that regard.
Final point being – now is the perfect time to begin your agency search if that’s what you believe is needed.
Courtesy of Drew McLellan at AMI
I’m a huge baseball fan and one of the more interesting aspects of the game for me is watching how teams manage their roster. They only have 32 spots, 20 position players, and 12 pitchers. They have to play over 160 games with that small set of players on the team. They can’t afford for any of them to be in a slump for too long. If a player isn’t helping the team, they don’t stay on the roster for long.
They have to win with the team they have, so they can’t really afford to tolerate a player who isn’t contributing in a significant way. They can’t just add more people to make up for someone’s deficiency, so they’re forced to deal with sub-par performances in short order.
Unfortunately, our agencies don’t have a player cap. Which means we often tolerate too many games where someone on the team isn’t holding up their end of the bargain and the team suffers a loss as a result. I am working with a couple agencies right now who are dealing with the toughest thing I think an agency owner can face — wrong people in the wrong seats. If you’re a small to mid-sized agency, you have no wiggle room when it comes to your team. Everyone has to be an A or at worst, a B-player if you are going to survive, let alone thrive.
In this instance, I am not talking about having to lay people off (which also sucks) but I’m talking about coming to the painful realization that you hired someone to do a job they are not capable of doing. Odds are you and the team have been working around this problem for quite some time.
I can hear you now….”but they are:”
Great for the culture
Very popular with the team
Have been super loyal for a long time
Big client XYZ is their good friend
My baby’s godmother
I have heard, seen and honestly, lived through it all. If we are ever together and sipping a cocktail, ask me about the time I had to fire an employee a couple years after giving the eulogy at his daughter’s funeral. I cried like a baby through the entire conversation — but it was probably at least a year overdue. I allowed my personal feelings to put my agency at risk. Which meant I was willing to sacrifice my other employees, client relationships, and ultimately the business because I didn’t have the courage to have the conversation I knew I needed to have.
If our employees could wave a magic wand, this is the one thing they would change about us — that we take forever to take action when an employee is not adding value at the level they should. They resent it and over time, they stop working so hard because they figure out that they can simply live up to the lowest standard we deem acceptable.
As you’ve been reading this, some of you have had an employee that keeps popping up in the back of your brain. You keep trying to push it aside…but you know I am talking to you.
In baseball, when a major league player no longer plays at the level the team needs (or maybe he never did) they don’t just cut him. They send him down to the minors to rehab. But there’s a clear conversation that goes with that move — “Here are the three things you need to improve by X date and here’s how we will measure that improvement. If you can’t accomplish that, we’re going to need to release you so we have room on the team for someone else.”
That’s the conversation most agency owners are not gifted at having. The “You need to level-up or move on” conversation. We may have it passive-aggressively — but few agency owners are consistently giving their team performance feedback that is clear and direct, with rewards and consequences. (If you have not read the book Radical Candor by Kim Scott, it should be your next read) .
As you were reading this, if an employee did come to mind, make a commitment to yourself that you are going to resolve that conflict with the agency’s best interest in mind within the next 90 days.
Absolutely try to save them. But do not squander one of the few seats you have on the bus. If they can’t level up — help them move on. You owe it to the players that are earning their seat every day, your clients, and your agency.
Meyst contribution – this is SO TRUE for people in the new business development slot. It’s one of the few “measurable” jobs in an agcncy and it doesn’t take long to witness an ill-fit.
|Every spring, I put together a list of trends that I think agency owners need to track. I present this content at the spring meetings of the AMI owner peer groups and then later in the summer/fall, I share the trends with my podcast audience (2019 parts one and two). I just finished the deck last week and presented it for the first time today. One of the trends that we talked about in 2019 that has really gathered steam is the idea of embedding an agency employee into the client’s work environment. Many agencies initially offered it to keep a client from taking work in-house but what they’ve discovered is that it’s an amazing biz dev strategy. Remember that 60-70% of your new business goal should come from existing clients and this is a smart way to trigger some of that growth. I don’t have one agency in my world that has an embedded employee that isn’t reporting client growth, new opportunities with other divisions within the company, and a strengthened relationship. It’s definitely a winning strategy for the agencies that have implemented it.
Now that I’ve had a year of studying it from afar, I have some thoughts on best practices around this growing trend. It is not without its pitfalls, if you make some wrong turns.
There is a lot of upside to this idea but be mindful of the risks and protect yourself accordingly. In 2018, I saw a handful of these arrangements. In 2019 — it went up significantly. I am seeing agencies of all sizes, in both the B2C and B2B space, offering this to clients. It’s not going away anytime soon so you should probably decide how you feel about it and if it might make sense for your shop!
A contribution from our friend Drew McLellan at AMI
Do you remember the movie “What Women Want” with Mel Gibson and Helen Hunt?
You do watch any movie that takes place inside an advertising agency, don’t you? Anyway —the premise of the movie is that Mel Gibson is an arrogant, sexist ad guy who receives the “gift” of being able to hear what women are thinking all around him. As you might imagine, it was a shock to Mel’s ego to see himself through the eyes of the women in his life.
If you haven’t seen it — check it out. It’s definitely worth a Netflix night.
The movie popped into my head because I’ve had some interesting conversations with agency employees over the past few weeks and my conversation with Craig in this week’s podcast also touched on how our employees see the agency, and us as the agency leader. I wish you could hear their unedited thoughts because I think we unintentionally miss the mark sometimes because of our assumptions.
Like poor Mel — sometimes the listening was not easy to hear. But, given what we do for a living — we know how important perspective is and as you might imagine, the Mel at the end of the movie is a different guy than the Mel we met initially. I wonder if that would be true for you, too.
Here are some of the biggest refrains that are running through agency employees’ brains that I believe are worthy of your time and attention:
I could go on and on, but you get the point. Your team (unless you are the exception to the rule) feels a little out of the loop. While they are grateful that you work as hard as you do — it’s frustrating when they are never a consistent priority. They want more of you. More feedback. More informal teaching. More mentorship and more “Atta boys!” from you.
I watch the agency owners who truly are the exception to the rule and their agencies are on a growth path. They are experiencing less turnover and their client retention is higher. If I can sum up what they’re doing, it’s this set of behaviors and beliefs:
Every one of you is capable of all of the above. I just think you are running so fast and have so much on your mind that you forget to slow down and connect with your team. I know you want to be an amazing leader. I know you want to inspire confidence and trust. I know you want to build a team that will follow you into battle and do you proud.
Make it a priority. Schedule the time on your calendar. See those thought bubbles over their heads and anticipate what they might be concerned about and proactively deal with those worries.
You’ve got this. I know you do.
Another great contribution by Drew McLellan, CEO AMI (Agency Management Institute)
It is fair to say that in the past two decades of being a consultant I have seen hundreds, if not a thousand or more agency credentials pitches, from presenting credentials to chemistry sessions to the full-blown agency pitch to win that multimillion-dollar account. I was also for many years on the agency side of the table pitching my work as a creative to clients and potential clients.
I know the hours of time and the money that goes into the agency credentials presentation and it is a cliche to say that I wish I knew then what I know now, which is why I am sharing this with you. Most agency credentials pitches fall flat and fail to hit the mark. The reason being that most fail at the very thing a credentials pitch should achieve – getting the client to trust you enough to consider giving you their business.
The first mistake many agencies make when pitching their agency is identifying the objective of the pitch. Why are you pitching? The circumstances may vary from a chance opportunity to meet a potential new client to the first meeting with the client at the start of a formal tender process. But no matter what the circumstances the purpose is for the client to give you their business. It is not about a forensic explanation of your business, or an opportunity to tell your detailed journey as a business. The purpose or objective is simply to get chosen.
So what are some of the mistakes agencies typically make when pitching credentials and what can you learn from them?
Not researching your audience
This does not mean stalking, but it does mean knowing your audience and what they are thinking, feeling and especially what they desire. After all, and contrary to conventional wisdom, a great pitch is not about you, it is about them. They are the ones you need to persuade. So get to know them by researching the organisation and individuals. Talk to the people that have either worked with them or for them. Use all the time available, even if it is five minutes, to get to know your audience.
Make sure that you answer the most important question
Most people are too focused and too busy explaining what it is they are pitching in microscopic detail as they think this is what the potential buyers are interested in. The fact is the most important question the buyers are asking themselves, sitting there, is what is in this for me – and I do not mean just financially. In fact that is often a secondary consideration after more emotional considerations like opportunities for success and fame and minimising risk and loss.
Prepare, prepare and prepare and then prepare again
Some people say rehearse, rehearse rehearse. But it is more important to know your material inside and out, back the front and upside down. Too often you can tell the agency has pulled the material together at the last minute and they fumble through the materials and presentation. Rather than having the most whiz-bang tech presentation it is much more effective to come across as confident, enthusiastic and in command of the pitch, the message, the audience and the outcome.
The secret of good pitching is timing
The opening few minutes of your pitch are everything so don’t waste time building to a reveal, get straight to the pitch. If you do not get them in the first minute the rest of the pitch is usually wasted. Likewise if you have an hour, then make the whole pitch in less than 30 minutes. If you have 30 minutes pitch in under 15 minutes. You want to engage the audience as quickly as possible and give them plenty of time to follow their curiosity. The reason is when the audiences is engaged with a genuine interest in what you are offering you are sliding into home base.
Present the benefits and not the features
This is an old copywriting technique and yet it is surprising how often agencies forget it. Don’t go into the details, but rather spend the time selling the big benefits to the advertiser and the business. This is not a rational decision. It is like all human decisions – an instinctual or emotional one that is then justified rationally. Certainly, know your numbers in detail, but don’t get caught up in an analysis of these details in the pitch because no one makes decision-based on the details alone. Make sure all of those details are in the documentation you will leave behind or send through after you have to go agreement to proceed.
Case studies are proof points
Too many agency pitch teams spend the first half telling you how good the agency is and then boring you with case studies for clients and categories that are unrelated to the buyer’s needs. Use case studies to prove your benefits. If you are great at working collaboratively don’t just say it, prove it by sharing a case study as an example of how well you collaborate. The only thing more compelling than saying how good you are is proving how good you are, with a great case study/story/ example. And the only thing more compelling than that is your client telling them for you. But more on testimonials another time.
Of course, if you want to refine your credentials pitch, test it out on people who know. I am sure you know a few.
Darren Woolley is founder and global chief executive of TrinityP3.
The Drum and an industry leader will deconstruct the pitch process and lay out the good and the bad at the upcoming Agency Acceleration Day APAC.
“If you are reading this, I have passed on from this world — not as big a deal for you as it was for me.
In my final months, I came to the sad reality that my life really did have a fourth quarter and the clock really would run out on me. I took the time to convey some thoughts that reflect back on my rich and full life.
I was able to amass 1.9 million Linkedin followers. On Twitter, more than 145,000 (thanks, Drake). This is my goodbye to each of you.
One question I was asked time and again: What is it that you will leave behind?
That’s at the heart of one of my favorite poems, “Indispensable Man,” which Saxon White Kessinger wrote in 1959. Here are a few stanzas that get to the heart of the matter:
Sometime when you feel that your going
Would leave an unfillable hole,
Just follow these simple instructions
And see how they humble your soul;
Take a bucket and fill it with water,
Put your hand in it up to the wrist,
Pull it out and the hole that’s remaining
Is a measure of how you’ll be missed.
You can splash all you wish when you enter,
You may stir up the water galore,
But stop and you’ll find that in no time
It looks quite the same as before.
You be the judge of how long the bucket remembers me.
I’ve long recognized the power of effective communication. That’s why in my later years I began to reflect on the many life lessons I learned along the way, and shared them with all who would listen.
Fortunately, I found the young have a thirst for this message. Many times over the years, I was fortunate enough to speak at student commencement ceremonies, and that gave me the chance to look out into a sea of the future and share some of these thoughts with young minds. My favorite of these speeches included my grandchildren in the audience.
What I would tell them was this Depression-era baby from tiny Holdenville, Oklahoma — that wide expanse where the pavement ends, the West begins, and the Rock Island crosses the Frisco — lived a pretty good life.
In those speeches, I’d always offer these future leaders a deal: I would trade them my wealth and success, my 68,000-acre ranch and private jet, in exchange for their seat in the audience. That way, I told them, I’d get the opportunity to start over, experience every opportunity America has to offer.
It’s your shot now.
If I had to single out one piece of advice that’s guided me through life, most likely it would be from my grandmother, Nellie Molonson. She always made a point of making sure I understood that on the road to success, there’s no point in blaming others when you fail.
Here’s how she put it:
“Sonny, I don’t care who you are. Some day you’re going to have to sit on your own bottom.”
After more than half a century in the energy business, her advice has proven itself to be spot-on time and time again. My failures? I never have any doubt whom they can be traced back to. My successes? Most likely the same guy.
Never forget where you come from. I was fortunate to receive the right kind of direction, leadership, and work ethic — first in Holdenville, then as a teen in Amarillo, Texas, and continuing in college at what became Oklahoma State University. I honored the values my family instilled in me, and was honored many times over by the success they allowed me to achieve.
I also long practiced what my mother preached to me throughout her life — be generous. Those values came into play throughout my career, but especially so as my philanthropic giving exceeded my substantial net worth in recent years.
For most of my adult life, I’ve believed that I was put on Earth to make money and be generous with it. I’ve never been a fan of inherited wealth. My family is taken care of, but I was far down this philanthropic road when, in 2010, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates asked me to take their Giving Pledge, a commitment by the world’s wealthiest to dedicate the majority of their wealth to philanthropy. I agreed immediately.
I liked knowing that I helped a lot of people. I received letters every day thanking me for what I did, the change I fostered in other people’s lives. Those people should know that I appreciated their letters.
My wealth was built through some key principles, including:
A good work ethic is critical.
Don’t think competition is bad, but play by the rules. I loved to compete and win. I never wanted the other guy to do badly; I just wanted to do a little better than he did.
Learn to analyze well. Assess the risks and the prospective rewards, and keep it simple.
Be willing to make decisions. That’s the most important quality in a good leader: Avoid the “Ready-aim-aim-aim-aim” syndrome. You have to be willing to fire.
Learn from mistakes. That’s not just a cliché. I sure made my share. Remember the doors that smashed your fingers the first time and be more careful the next trip through.
Be humble. I always believed the higher a monkey climbs in the tree, the more people below can see his ass. You don’t have to be that monkey.
Don’t look to government to solve problems — the strength of this country is in its people.
Stay fit. You don’t want to get old and feel bad. You’ll also get a lot more accomplished and feel better about yourself if you stay fit. I didn’t make it to 91 by neglecting my health.
Embrace change. Although older people are generally threatened by change, young people loved me because I embraced change rather than running from it. Change creates opportunity.
Have faith, both in spiritual matters and in humanity, and in yourself. That faith will see you through the dark times we all navigate.
Over the years, my staff got used to hearing me in a meeting or on the phone asking, “Whaddya got?” That’s probably what my Maker is asking me about now.
Here’s my best answer.
I left an undying love for America, and the hope it presents for all. I left a passion for entrepreneurship, and the promise it sustains. I left the belief that future generations can and will do better than my own.
Before you had a website, you should have had an agency brochure. Something you kept in inventory for those times when a prospect conversation ended with “can you send me something?” Off went the brochure with an accompanying cover letter. That conversation and package was normally sent by the person charged with agency business development and followed a meaningful telephone conversation. The cover letter was written accordingly.
A good “agency business development person” (ABD) would make a follow-up call to confirm package receipt and continue with a probative conversation. Using what was learned during that call, the ABD now sent a very carefully considered and grouped collection of materials designed to emphasize and confirm the agency’s suitability and candidacy for handling the client’s business.
This process was carefully tailored to each client and each client’s interest; when speaking with a B2B client, there was generally no “show and tell” of fashion-related experience. Conversely fashion prospects were not burdened with industrial examples. Thinking back, didn’t this all make sense?
What’s your website today? A pithy mini tome declaring purpose and intent; a collection of everything you do and have done; an introduction to smiling team leaders with photos and bios, text hopefully appealing to all visitors, samples of current work in all categories, a listing of current but seldom past clients, concluding with a “Contact Us” page. Not necessarily in that order, but available for viewing.
Many variables determine why an agency is selected by a client, but all will agree that “chemistry” or likeability plays a deciding factor in the final selection. Knowing that, good agency people also know that “chemistry” plays a factor from the very beginning. Meaning – “You never get a second change to make a first impression” and undeniably the ABD can make or break your chance for success from the get-go.
If that’s the case, why not give your ABD star billing on the Contact Us Page? A handsome photo, and brief but credentialed bio, and multiple contact options. And while you’re at it, if your ABD is engaged in multiple forms of proactive outreach, rather than pointing to your website in those materials as your competitors do, suggest they engage in an initial telephone conversation; then respond with a “custom digital agency brochure” tailored to that discussion.
As to your website? How about other alternate versions – just a powerful page or two featuring a vertical market, then declaring your understanding of the importance of relationships and of one-to-one conversation. Agency-to-client and client-to customer. Let them know your initial conversation will lead to a uniquely-selected collection of samples and examples specific to their interest and needs. Not like other “we-do-it-all” agency websites. Incorporate AI to let them schedule a day and time for their call and conversation. Confirm by email plus a real honest-to-goodness agency business card via USPS.
Oh BTW – agency websites are used to recruit new hires too. But rather than burdening someone on staff who often has limited HR experience, why not engage an employee search consultant to narrow the field and present only qualified candidates? (as they’ve done for years)
A Peter Levitan production …
Is your advertising agency ready for the next recession? Have you been thinking that the current sweet economy that has helped the small and medium-sized advertising agency market to prosper in the past couple of years was going to last forever?
Well, the time has come to fuhgedaboudit.
Early last week a smart agency client of mine asked me about the current volatility of the stock market that is driven by increasingly inept and ill-timed trade war announcements. He mentioned that his clients are getting skittish because they do not have a clear view of the future. Uncertantude is not a harbinger of growth in client marketing, advertising spending and therefore agency security.
Yesterday the stock market dropped 3% on thinking that a global recession is coming. Does this make you feel secure? Even if the market continues its up and down ride, clients will be spooked for awhile.
Recessions breed fear and loathing within client ranks. I know this having gone through some major recessions where worried clients lower budgets, stop programs and begin to fire and change agencies. You do not need to hear my personal history. But you should remember the ‘great recession’ of December 2007 through June 2009. The USA GDP dropped by 5.1%.
To be direct, that recession fucked the advertising industry and I am not sure that the industry, as in what it can charge clients, has ever recovered. I won’t go into detail about the recession. But, if you need a memory nudge, watch these two movies again: The Big Short and The Queen Of Versaille.
You know what happens to client spending and loyalty during an advertising recession. What can you do about it other the tried and mostly failed attempts of trying to convince clients that recessions are exactly the time to increase advertising branding and spending.
Well, you should now up your agency to prospect B2B marketing and spending. Get that account-based marketing program off the shelf. That means it is time to market your agency because:
The recession is coming. Tomorrow? Next year? Who knows. But, I do know it is coming. (Editor – It’s also time to be sure you have a profile here at AgencyFinder – cheap insurance when you will need it!)
It is time to up your advertising agency marketing game. By the way, this is not my first rodeo. Here is an older blog post on recessions.