Indy Ad Exec: Conquering our economy — an agency guide
by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) There are two opposing statements which, in the here and now, hold almost equal merit.
“There has never been so much opportunity in the marketplace.”
“The marketplace has never been so constrained.”
The internet, smartphones and myriad other technologies have closed the gap between brands and consumers to a needle point, empowering our collective audience with information while affording marketers the opportunity to engage in more personal communication than ever before.
And then there’s the economy, the state of the rand, the interest rate, the petrol price — together applying very real pressure to the idea of prosperity.
What this really means is the stakes are higher, the gaps smaller, the audience more expectant. Agencies, far from being immune to this, are highly exposed to the dynamics at play.
Rather than panic, a calm and measured approach to refining your agency offering and deepening client relationships will see you weather this storm and, indeed, define your future success.
How agencies will survive and thrive
Let’s start simply: accept that we are in a state of rapid and permanent change. Accept, too, that if you fail to recognise this, your days of competitiveness are numbered.
Then take heed of these seven tips on how to maximise your output in pursuit of advancement:
1. Be prepared to pitch more
Not only are retained agreements dwindling, but performance-oriented ad hoc engagement could soon become the norm.
If you can’t deliver, another agency will fill your shoes sooner or later.
Pick your opportunities and get stuck in.
2. Cut your overheads
In a people-intensive business, it’s hard to drop talent but there are still ways to cut your overall cost base.
Gone are the days of extravagance, regular parties and luxury travel.
While image is important, think carefully, too, about your office location and get creative with the décor. Inner city lofts can be just as appealing, and even more differentiating, than a slick corporate setup.
3. Deliver value
You know what clients value; sell more of that and less of the other stuff.
It starts with really understanding your consumer audience, so don’t scrimp on research and insight. Then look to form lean and efficient teams which are capable of enhancing the engagement experience.
Quality always triumphs in the long run, so deliver above expectation rather than cutting fees — the latter is unsustainable.
4. Leverage technology
Both in- and outside your business, digital tools are enabling unimaginable progress. From consumer engagement to the platforms and programs you should be using internally to aid increased productivity, in this digital age, eliminating the unnecessary is absolutely necessary.
Replace travel with video conferencing, calls with Skype, courier with electronic file transfers. You get the point.
This may seem controversial to many a purebred creative head, but the businessperson in me says that not all specialisations need to sit under the same roof.
Strike up key relationships with trusted partners whom you know will meet your standards, and use them to fill key gaps — you’ll only pay for their time when you need it, also allowing you to focus your internal efforts on key projects.
6. Spend more on targeted marketing
Recessive economies often allow smaller players to gain a cheap(er) share of voice because others are cutting back.
Take advantage and communicate your difference; you will signal your suitability as an agency partner and attract like-minded clients.
7. Invest in training
In the business of intellectual property, your people are your most valuable asset.
Upskill your staff by investigating in cross-functional training to enhance overall ability, while also stimulating retention of your top performers.
While the above guide is not exhaustive, if you have an entrepreneurial mindset, a poor economic climate can be brimming with growth potential.
In many ways, agencies will have to move their sights beyond innovation — those that will reach the highest highs will have invented new ways of working and will have been constant instigators of change, consistently challenging the status quo.
As ever, the extraordinary will be richly rewarded.
With a decade of local and international experience in leading independent brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the dynamics of independent agencies. His skills are put to work daily as group managing director of MACHINE.
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