How do you know if your marketing firm needs a new vision?

Some agency leaders may believe they already have a sense of direction. The feeling is often: “We’ve gotten along fine up to this point, why do we need a new vision?” Because bad things happen.

ad agency warning signs

Transportation is a precise business.

A high-performance agency with great leadership is like watching a precision driver handle a really nice car – everything is in sync, and they become one. Think about that fun, campy movie The Transporter (2002), where ex-special forces operator Frank Martin is a “transporter” – a professional driver who will deliver packages from one place to another. No questions asked. Frank is very, very particular about his vehicle: everything has to be perfectly balanced, perfectly tuned, and nothing left to chance. You see, Frank is a very good driver. The car sings in his hands. Frank also adheres to a strict set of rules: 1) never change the deal 2) no names and 3) never look in the package. Bad things happen when you break the rules.

There are a few agencies that are like “The Transporter” — a high performance vehicle and an outstanding driver that delivers for their clients. It’s a joy to watch a driver on a mission with a clear set of rules that everyone knows. And those rules are never to be broken. The vehicle is extremely fast, perfectly balanced, corners on a dime, must be monitored closely and checked often. And together they always get the job done.

How do you recognize when the driver is not one with the car? Below are a few warning signs we see within agencies that indicate the need for much more active leadership – a steady hand on the wheel if you will. These only show up when there is a lack of direction, rules are being broken, or there is uncertainty about the agency’s mission. Bad things happen.

Ad Agency Warning Signs:

  1. Lack of Mission: Is there confusion about purpose? For example: there are frequent disagreements among senior management about which clients should have priority, what services and technologies to provide, and where the greatest opportunities are likely to be found.
  2. No Challenge: Do your employees complain about the lack of challenge and the lack of fun around the office? Are the good people leaving and the bad people staying? Is there pessimism about the future, and are the key employees cynical about management’s ability to make the agency succeed in the future?
  3. Old Vehicle: Is the agency losing market position? Is the agency seen as an innovator? Are new competitors growing faster and moving in on current clients?
  4. Too Slow: Does the agency seem out of step with other agencies in the industry? There’s a feeling that the organization may be slipping and not keeping up with changes in technology and marketing trends.
  5. Not Committed: Are there signs of decline in pride within the agency? Are most of your people working only for paychecks without a real sense of commitment to the agency?
  6. Too Much Fear: Is there excessive risk avoidance at the agency with people sticking to their job descriptions and unwilling to accept ownership or responsibility for new projects? Does the agency seem resistant to change?
  7. Out of Sync: Is there an absence of shared sense of progress? Where is momentum at the agency? Is there excitement at all levels within the agency?
  8. Missing Gears: Does everyone on the senior team still feel strongly about the agency’s future and their future with the agency? Is it difficult for members of the agency leadership team to articulate how things are improving?
  9. Rule Breaking: Is there an overactive rumor mill at the agency with people constantly trying to find out through the grapevine what’s in store next for them or for the agency? Do people truly trust and respect the agency’s top management?

Develop a New Direction.

new directions in agency growth

Leaders find a way around obstacles.

Start thinking about your agency as a high performance vehicle, and you’re the driver. Take a realistic look at where the agency is today. What are your challenges? Outline the market space where you compete. Is the strategic high ground now occupied by consultants? Are new competitors occupying the low ground: digital, social media and small creative hot-shops? Are you running up against more and more freelancers who are thrilled to compete against you on the basis of price? Consider this a call to change and a warning not to stand still. Adopt a strong vision for the agency that will point the new direction for staff to follow in the future. Understand that there is no more powerful engine for driving an agency forward than an attractive, worthwhile vision of the future.

However, adopting a strong vision is nothing more than a hollow shell without the right vehicle to earn your staff’s dedication and buy-in to the new vision. To do this, the agency staff needs to be prepared for the changes that this new vision will demand. Without a fully committed staff, most agencies wander from change effort to change effort without much success. It takes active planning, training and implementation to give ownership of the vision to the entire agency, not just the management team.

Your goal is to be the transporter for your clients, taking them into the future of marketing. Now go… drive.

If you enjoyed this, you may like our short slide show here “Symptoms of Denial 10 Warning Signs a Firm Is in Trouble

Road Closed Photo by Brad Folkens and used under creative commons