The agency world has changed a lot, but two things remain the same for marketing firms: the necessity to win new accounts and the need to keep what you win.

ad agency leadership

Don’t get distracted by the little things.

With all these changes, we find that agency leaders often lose sight of what’s really important. Here are eight critical areas that seem to get left for last, or just plain forgotten– yet really must be top of mind every day!

Ad Agency Leaders Must Be Focused:

  1. Focus on Your Agency Brand: The secrets of creating a brand for clients are well known by most agencies, yet few agencies take time to brand themselves properly. A strong branding program implemented throughout the agency, reinforced every single day through direct action, is one of the keys to agency success. All the elements of a brand, from the positioning, theme, leadership style, to the internal space, if done correctly, will pay big dividends in the long run. Keep your focus on your brand, and don’t let it drift unguided for too long. Otherwise, the market may end up branding your agency and you may not like the result.
  2. Focus on Agency Growth: Agency leaders must be focused on building and maintaining a strong growth system for their firm – it takes action every single day. Every. Single. Day. Start by doing a needs analysis that covers everything from your brand, outreach effort, pitch efforts, lead tracking, to the types of prospects you’re targeting. Understand and measure what works, and always be adapting the new business program. It’s not the job of your new business director to grow the agency, only to follow the new business system. The responsibility for growth lies with you – the leader. New business committees will never work, and top-priced “rain makers” drown without proper leadership and support.
  3. Focus on Great Work: Far too many leaders enjoy solving problems and end up getting wrapped up in every little project. They lose sight of the 80:20 rule – 20 percent of any agency’s output accounts for the majority of the agency’s reputation and reward. Implementing a simple workflow classification system (A, B or C type work) allows the agency to dedicate the proper resources (time, effort and money) to each. Usually this means that you monitor A items very closely and can just check on B and C projects regularly. Differentiating work by type and developing priorities and processes keeps you focused on the work that really matters.
  4. Focus on Chemistry: The agency world is a people business. This means you must be focused on people and how they interrelate – what we call chemistry. Use personality profiling to enhance new business, client retention, and all business relationships. Focus on removing the tension that can build among staff and partners, clients and agencies. The number one reason why clients fire agencies is personal, so be sure you understand how to spot potential client-agency conflicts early before things turn ugly. Poor chemistry hinders communication within the agency and increases tension between departments and clients. Focus on improving communication, building teamwork and improving productivity.
  5. Focus on Agency Talent: Recognize that when your staff leaves the agency every evening, there goes your key client relationships. Make sure to keep your focus on hiring and keeping top talent. If you don’t have a strong talent pool, recruit it or build it. Invest in your people. Make sure you understand how to best structure salaries, bonus programs, compensation arrangements, and employment contracts. Stay on top of the latest trends in developing employees, new training options, and retention programs. Keep outstanding talent, your best asset, working at your agency.
  6. Focus on Account Service: The Achilles’ heel of most agency-client retention programs is your account team. Most account service staff is undertrained, overcommitted, not managed, and careen from one near disaster to another with little regard for what clients really want. Stay involved in your client’s business and on top of your account teams. Trust your team, but verify by maintaining a strong relationship with key client contacts. Keep pushing your account teams to lead clients, and not fall behind, trying to catch up. And never let problems linger.
  7. Focus on Agency Compensation: Always make sure you get paid, even in uncertain times. Keep your cash flow top-of-mind. Focus on structuring your compensation arrangements with an eye towards developing different ways to value and price what you do. Try value-based pricing. Be sure to plug any loopholes in your client agreements. Always be on the lookout for new agency compensation models and don’t forget to try a few incentive programs. Even the failures will provide you with some outstanding lessons.
  8. Focus on Agency Management: A steady stream of profitable business from good clients is often made unprofitable at an agency because of missing time sheets, jobs over budget, poor internal controls, late invoices, vendor bill confusion, missed meetings, staff workloads and lost billing opportunities. Check and monitor your management style, and develop the next level of leadership. Stay on top of the information flow at your agency – both the formal and informal channels. Far too many strong agencies have gone under due to a loss of focus on the critical management skills.

Agency leadership is not about theory: it’s about definable action you can take to improve your chances to grow and to achieve your goals. Keep the focus on your team, your clients and inspire better performance out of your agency. Better creative, better results, better growth. Don’t get distracted by the easy, petty issues, or the hundred other minor issues that crop up every day. It’s far too easy for many agency leaders to just “manage” the little stuff while losing focus of the big picture. The focus must be on agency growth, operations, and leadership.

If you are looking for some ideas on how to improve your firm’s performance in these eight key areas, give us a call, one good idea could make all the difference. And unlike some consulting firms, we do no work for clients. We specialize solely in helping marketing communication companies, agencies, design firms, direct response and media organizations, digital firms, public relation companies and brand consultancies move up to the next level quickly and efficiently.


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