These are tough times for the traditional advertising firm.

ad agency leadership

Take the Plunge: Leap into the Future!

The fundamentals of marketing are changing, traditional forms of advertising no longer get the same bang-for-the-buck, and digital is gaining more and more market share. Clients are more fickle than ever, jumping from one agency to another. In order to survive and prosper, you can’t afford to sit back hoping for the good old times to return. Be the leader and address your top strategic challenges now. It’s often been said that doing the same thing over and over expecting different results is the very definition of insanity. Perhaps now is the time to embrace change, rethink your agency’s strategic direction, and set a new course. Leap into the unknown.

What Drives Failure.

In order to rethink the future of your agency, we have to examine a very real case of failure. Take a look at a brand like Blockbuster– once the world leader in delivering packaged creative entertainment to the masses. What’s to blame for their demise? Failing to recognize the impact of new competition like Netflix? Perhaps, but Netflix was around for over six years before Blockbuster even attempted to offer home delivery services. Was it a lack of online delivery? Blockbuster owned a full range of content and could have created a powerful solution.

Why couldn’t Blockbuster compete with Netflix? Was it something unseen, unknown that the leadership of Blockbuster failed to grasp? Perhaps it wasn’t just Netflix that doomed Blockbuster, but a wider shift in how people think, live and interact with brands?

The advent of instant-access, always-on, digital technology is transforming the world we live in, in obvious ways AND in some ways that are unseen and unknowable this early in the process (read our post on the Digital Kaboom). One possibility we must consider is that the ease of access is altering how customers think, how they relate to brands, and raising their service expectations. Perhaps it was as simple as the leaders of Blockbuster failed to understand how customers’ desires were changing.

Blockbuster, filled with smart business people who had hired some of the top consulting firms in the world, failed to identify fundamental shifts in their market right up to the point where they were no longer relevant to the consumer. They missed entirely the evolution of the new rules of consumer behavior.

Is the ad industry about to be Blockbusted? What is really happening to the advertising industry? And more importantly, what will be the impact on your agency, short-term and long-term? And what about the consumers… they keep on moving. Are clients starting to fundamentally change without us noticing?

Leadership Is About Change.

Leadership is about trying new ideas, new directions, keeping the clients happy, helping them solve their problems, and most importantly addressing their needs and issues. This is where the difference between leadership and management, between strategic thinking and day-to-day operational thinking, becomes evident.

Smart leaders don’t wait for the often-too-late-marketplace to inform their decision making. And they never wait for the competition to pave the way. It’s the truly unique firm that is out there on the edge, working on the “next big thing.” Not just keeping their finger on the pulse of their industry, but always looking for inspiration for new ideas. Understanding the client’s needs and demands is basic agency management. Staying ahead of clients, anticipating their needs, requires a little bit of thinking. Creating something new before clients even know they need it is the real challenge.

Proactive agencies are willing to set a new course that is unique within the industry. They don’t just seize new opportunities, they create them. Is it a Blue Ocean Canvas, Porter’s Five Forces Model, SWOT or some other strategic tool that can create something new? Is it a tool that empowers you to move beyond your competition, or leadership? What are you doing to help create your agency’s future? Whatever you call it: a tool, a session, a role, it is created by thinking strategically about your business.

Most agencies operate with a day-to-day mindset, dealing with clients and staff issues as they arise. Few, if any, have the time to think about the marketplace, much less about what the future may look like. Fewer still have the courage to set a new course. So I have to ask, in a world where most marketing firms are being commoditized, where there is little to no difference between agencies, why wouldn’t you do a bit of strategic planning for your firm?

Ad Agency Strategic Plan Development.

The consultants call our industry “fluid and dynamic” to describe the constant change, but it’s too soon to identify the new rules. Now is the time to develop a strategic mindset. As an agency leader, part of your responsibility needs to be strategic thinking. Your staff and clients are expecting you to be the visionary, the leader who can articulate what the future will hold, and who will have to confidence to see it through to the end.

6 Keys to Successful Strategic Planning:

  1. Eyes Wide Open: Make sure you have a clear understanding of the opportunities and challenges facing your industry.
  2. Know Yourself: Dive deep into your organization. Identify your key strengths and weaknesses. No fluff.
  3. Cast a Wide Net: Don’t rely on your team’s narrow focus. Reach outside and involve a broad spectrum of great thinkers.
  4. Beg, Borrow, Steal Ideas: Learn from the best practices of other industries, study how others overcame challenges.
  5. Execute, Execute, Execute: Establish priorities and an implementation plan. Focus on accomplishing the short term now. Adapt as you roll out.
  6. Track Progress: Make sure you understand the levers of change. And watch closely to ensure progress is being made. Communicate the changes to entire staff.

Commit To Change.

You can place all kinds of business strategies in place, but if you don’t know your clients, and listen to them, your clients will eventually leave. This is what happened to Blockbuster, plain and simple.

A structured, properly conducted strategic planning session forces you to evaluate the state of the industry. To go out and learn what’s working and what’s not. To identify new trends, new ideas, new technology. It enables you to view the industry with a fresh perspective and hopefully come up with some creative ideas on how to best prepare your agency for the future.

Perhaps it’s time to create a multi-disciplinary change team of staff members designated to envision a future where your agency can thrive. Their goal is to create a new environment that takes advantage of your strengths, addresses your weaknesses, improves teamwork, and plans for the future.

Strategic thinking is a mindset, difficult to maintain in face of the constant day-to-day pressures. It’s something we always challenge clients to do… so don’t we need to do the same for ourselves? Give us a call at 412.897.9329 or email [email protected]


Photo by JelloCloned-raee