Why is it so difficult to get stuff done? Why do so many leaders find it hard to communicate and execute in today’s ad agencies?

bonds that hold us back

Unleash your ad agency.

It all starts at the top. Every leader is faced with work and life challenges – that’s a given. But for some reason, many of the agencies we visit seem to be facing something different: a general malaise, a feeling the other shoe is about to drop, that something just isn’t right. There is a sense that something significant has changed in the world of marketing. Normal day-to-day challenges and client problems are having a greater impact on the whole agency like never before. So what is really driving all this turmoil within the agency walls? There are two very big reasons many ad agencies struggle now.

The New Agency Reality:

  1. Clients no longer understand the role and purpose of marketing: Most people who find themselves in the role of marketing for a brand come from finance, or operations, or sales. Few, if any, have anything other than a superficial understanding of marketing – their focus is on tactical execution. Some reports suggest that half of all executives don’t understand strategy, and two-thirds in management don’t understand their brand’s direction! Combine this with the very transformation of marketing itself and you have a perfect storm: changing technology, evolving channels, and the growing impact of digital plus a lack of understanding. This lack of understanding and empathy by clients represents a serious operational challenge for agencies. It’s difficult to lead, to build a team, and to get great work out when the foundation of your business is being undermined – the ability to use marketing as a strategic lever.
  2. The creative product itself: Creative is subjective, making it difficult to measure, quantify, and compare the product. Truly powerful marketing is an art, not a science. Innovative break-out marketing strategies and game-changing creative ideas are tough to sell. Any idea that challenges the status quo are inherently risky. Most client’s, with their operational background and love of process are naturally risk-adverse. The most powerful game-changing ideas rarely come from some proven process, research, or focus group. When the nebulous creative product is combined with the operational-logic tactical thinking style of clients (see above), the challenge to agencies becomes daunting – to say the least.

The changing role of marketing and subjective nature of creative makes any attempt to consistently deliver truly creative marketing ideas a challenge. But that shouldn’t give any agency a pass on not trying to up their game. After all, clients are still going to agencies to get stuff done. The rules have changed, but that doesn’t mean you get to take your ball and go home. (However, you can change the game – refocus your agency on more strategic consultative approaches). Keep working on your strategic game, move up the marketing ladder. And free up resources by getting more stuff done – quickly.

Focus On Getting Stuff Done:

Agencies are at the center of a maelstrom of constant change – digital, mobile, internet and more mixed with evolving client demands and changing leadership priorities. This adds up to an uncertain future of the ad agency business. No one is sure where the future of marketing is, and this uncertainty creates stress on every marketing organization. But there is one truth that will never go away – the need for clients to get stuff done. The best agencies in the world know how to maximize their skills through teamwork, communication, problem-solving and project execution.

Effective leadership allows agencies to turn on a dime, establish new priorities, and quickly execute programs. Leaders lead, everyone communicates, teamwork is there, all focused on getting stuff done.

Perhaps it’s time to pull together some of your best and brightest to enlist their help. Plan a few taskforces, action groups, committees, whatever, and challenge them with improving your operations. Let them run an offsite session on topics like:

  • Agency vision/mission/goal
  • Enhancing teamwork
  • Improving communication
  • Streamline processes
  • Develop an action plan to accomplish goals

Engaging your staff to help achieve your goals and desired behaviors is a great place to start building a strong foundation for change. Back in the day (my old operational consulting days) we used to call this the P3 Team. P3 stands for People/Process/Productivity. Smart people and smart processes result in the great execution of outstanding client work. If this approach becomes fully incorporated into the agency, it will help streamline operations, improve communication, and create less rework, fewer errors and a more positive outlook. One key bit of advice: find an outside expert to help your team get off on the right foot!

Agencies are constantly being challenged to be creative – to push the envelope and deliver game-changing business-building ideas. This goal is in direct conflict with any systematic, static processes. Recognize that or become disappointed and frustrated. The above ideas will not cure a unique and sometimes chaotic process. But good leaders can build a strong foundation that, when combined with good judgment and experience, will get great stuff done. And isn’t that the goal after all?

Some more thoughts on agency operations:



Struggle photo by d4d4nk