Many agency leaders have given up on sailing into winds of change that are blowing through our industry.

take action, change the future

The only sure way to fail is to no longer try.

Instead they let clients take the lead and force the pace of change. These agency leaders try to manage the unmanageable, struggle to keep up and let the winds of change blow them every which way. Their energy is spent in reaction.

Ad Agencies Need to Adapt:

  • Believe that the only constant from now on is change. Any attempt to control it flies in the face of reality. It can’t be done. Stop reacting and stop trying to manage what can’t be managed.
  • Agencies can dictate the pace of change by getting out ahead of it. On the edge where agencies used to operate.
  • Take a leaf from the clients’ play book. Get back to basics. Focus on your agency’s organization and the way it does business. Clients spend big money making sure their firms operate the fastest, quickest, smartest way they can. And that means they have to put pressure on their suppliers (read “us” here) to either get in step with them or fall behind.
  • Improve the way your firm operates. This can pay big dividends in terms of profitability, speed, response, and client satisfaction.

Here are five “plays” that you can run. Each one will mean great improvement in the way you operate:

Play #1. Service Right: Cut the fat and high salaries out of account service. Replace your account service team with lower-paid project managers who operate as the go-betweens to keep work moving. Think of them as traffic managers on steroids, even though Congress might frown on that expression. Then create a new set of agency people who concentrate on delivering business building ideas for clients. This means helping clients market better. This new role is called account strategists, not account planners. This position puts the emphasis on moving the client’s business forward, not getting the ads right. The results of this dramatic shift can be quite positive including lower costs, more face time, better thinking, more ideas to clients which they love, and a smoother-operating agency.

Play #2. Prioritize Right: All projects and all clients shouldn’t be treated as equal. Hospitals gave up long ago treating all emergency room cases on a first in/first treated basis. They prioritize the work. They call it triage but it’s a priority system. And it works.

Here’s one for agencies to follow. Agree that most of your work load is classified as “Green”. It’s important to the client, and it makes money for you. In percentages, 95% of the work you do is in this Green category. The rule is to do it and move it. Don’t fight over Green work. Concentrate on getting it done to the best of the agency’s ability but solve the problem, help the client, and keep it profitable.

Every now and then you will get a “Yellow” job. This is a project that will make the agency famous. Here you want to over spend and work hard for a “home run.” This classification will happen about 4% of the time. Maybe it’s a pro bono piece. Or a outdoor posting that everyone will see. The client might not consider it special but you do because it can make the agency better known, perhaps famous. You want to do great on the Yellow opportunities you find. And over invest to make it great.

Lastly you will have a one or two “Red” opportunities each year. The definition is that the Red work has the power to change a client’s future. It can have that much impact. Here you want to fight for your ideas and suggestions, risk losing the client in the process because the client needs this, whether or not the client sees the value.

What do you gain? Differentiating work by type and developing priorities and processes that reflect the nature of the job can free up an abundance of agency resources.

Play #3. Start Right: One of the greatest contributors to wasted effort, rework, revisions and general staff frustration can be easily avoided by starting every project on the right foot. A different kickoff with differing requirements can be created for each different job classification. With the Green, Yellow and Red system you know where you want to concentrate your resources. Make that clear at the beginning of each project and the agency will be a happier and more productive place.

Play #4. Organize Right: The best agencies do project management in their sleep. They have different color files for different types of projects; they utilize traffic boards to visually keep track of all of the work; and they never sit on a file that is due downstream. Some high volume agencies have gone so far as to create a war room-like traffic center that is visible from the lobby and utilizes tracking screens that cover the entire wall. The key is to focus on a few key attributes (e.g. job classification and critical approvals) and develop a low maintenance and creatively structured way of tracking the work through its life cycle. The benefits here for clients, staff members, managers, and owners are enormous.

Play #5. Keep Time Right: You get better when you really measure performance. And the biggest performance measurement for agencies is time utilization. It’s the biggest resource you have available and you need to know how it’s being used. Reporting accurate time is critical if you want to be paid what you are worth. And having good records allows you to price your services in the future. Time management is an area where consultants shine and agencies can take a lesson. Agencies need to develop the same pride in time as they do in creativity.

Bottom line: Implementing one or more of these ideas will improve the agency’s bottom-line performance. And the overall impact may reach well beyond the bottom-line. Many agencies find that once they start to address the changing world with some sound un-changing principles inside their walls, they start to lead their clients. Just like the old days… the (un)changing world.

For more ideas on how to improve your relationships with clients check out our High Gear program.