Do You Really, Truly Want to Transform Your Agency?

By Madison Avenue Makeover Archives
Cover image for  article: Do You Really, Truly Want to Transform Your Agency?

Are you tired of being shoved around by clients?  Worried about your fees?  Missing your budgets?  Is your creativity undervalued?  Are your best people quitting for better jobs?  Do benchmarkers set your fees?  Do you remember the good old days, when you trod the gilded C-Suite corridors?  When you were treated with respect?  When your work was award-winning and it really mattered?  When what you did made a difference?  Friend, you need a transformation.  A real transformation.

I don’t mean a get-rich-quick, lose-20-pounds-in-one-month, regain-your-sexual-potency-with-this-simple-herb type of transformation.  Those are fake, and they’re talked about all the time, with zero results.

I don’t mean the kind of transformation that your junior folks or project managers can fumble around with while you’re out beating the new business bushes.

No, friend, this is your transformation.  It requires personal leadership.  Leadership.  Putting your neck out -- perhaps for the chopping block.  Taking a position.  Staking your reputation on it.

Here’s what you have to do:

1.  Commit your agency to a single mission: Solving client brand problems.  Not enough growth.  Not enough profitability.  Underperforming in the marketplace.  Failing with Millennials.  Overspending on the wrong media.  Underspending on the right media.  Underplanning Scopes of Work. Not knowing how good the brands can be.  Not having a plan to get there.  Make vocal your commitment to this mission.  Announce it.  Train for it. Hire for it.  Fire because of it.  And inspect your progress along the way.  Help your CMOs become the heroes they deserve to be.  Work for their success, behind the scenes.  The transformation is about them, and what you can do for them.

2.  Be selective, and only develop new clients who will commit to you as a “performance partner,”where you work together in a relationship designed to improve brand performance.  A long-term commitment.  You analyze the client’s brand problems and identify their “full performance potential.”  You analyze and recommend media mix, media spend and Scopes of Work.  You carry out your strategic and creative work and adjust it as needed.  Your lead account head will be accountable to you and to the client to deliver positive results.  Let competing agencies do the commodity work for their underperforming clients.

3.  Be paid for the work you do, with a fair price for each strategic and creative deliverable you plan and carry out.  This means documenting, measuring, and negotiating SOWs on a uniform basis throughout your agency -- it’s your agency way.  Focus on the work you need to do, not on man-hours.

4.  As you deliver successful work, price up your work at higher rates. You deserve it, and your agency’s cost will be a small percentage of the value you create.  Negotiate rates, not profit-sharing schemes.  Who wants to argue about who was responsible for improved results?

5.  Create a culture of measurability and accountability. Your account heads must be measured by fees, SOW workloads, resources and results.  Their performance needs to be reviewed quarterly by office heads.  Their success defines success for the office heads, to whom they report, and so forth up the chain of command.  Success for the agency comes from clients who are growing and spending more.  Existing client growth is the ultimate measure of agency success.

6.  Share the benefits of growth and income with your people. Reward those who deliver.  Eliminate those who do not or cannot.

Here’s what you’ll have to eliminate or forget:

1.  Narcissistic worship of the “Big Idea” and “Creativity.”  They’ve failed with clients, and this is reflected in the terrible way you’re treated and paid.  They’re not delivering results.  They did once, in the simpler past, but too much has changed.  Worship, instead, the religion of improved client results.  Be as creative as the work and brand challenges require.

2.  Continued fragmentation of your organization and the horizontal proliferation of job titles.  You need to simplify your organization, with resources allocated by client, under an accountable account head who is responsible for business analysis, media and SOW planning, and ongoing strategic, creative and production processes.  You need a more accountable hierarchy, with transparent data that illuminates what is being done and paid.  You need to be truly client-centric, with a minimum of people who are not fully allocated or utilized on paid client work.  Get rid of the Greek Chorus folks!

3.  Public bragging about your perceived short-term accomplishments.  Stop tooting horns.  If you have something to say, publish a learned piece.  Develop expertise.  Use your expertise for your clients’ benefit.

Friend, you’re in a war, and you’re on the losing side.  There is no one to bail you out.  Not your project managers or your digital specialists or your content managers.  Not your CFO.  Not your low-cost production capability or your expensive executive creative directors.  Not your account heads, who are giving away 10-20% of their work.  Not the 4As.  And certainly not your holding company.

You are alone, with all the responsibility.  Transformation belongs to you.  Develop a vision and set a course.  Get rid of those who are not on your team.  You’ll know in a few years if you’ve succeeded or failed.

At least, though, you will have given it your all.

Cartoon credit: Al Ross, The New Yorker, The Cartoon Bank. With permission

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