Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The "Attractive " Agency

I have a theory and a question.

Most people have heard of The Law of Attraction. Essentially, it says that whatever you focus on in life you will draw or attract to you. Your thought process is like a magnet.

If you focus on the negative -- lack, limitation and scarcity -- that is what you’ll get. If you worry about the next client who will cut the budget or put the agency on hold – that’s what will happen.

Conversely, if you believe (truly believe) in abundance and prosperity you will attract abundance and prosperity. If you focus on the next client you will win, rather than the next client you’ll lose – guess what? You will acquire a new piece of business or increase business from one of your existing clients.

Now, think about “attractive” people. They draw to them others who want what they have. And, they do it easily, seemingly with little effort. They are “magnetic”. Attraction is success without striving.

So, my theory is that there can be such a thing as an “attractive agency” – an agency that attracts to it their ideal clients, their ideal people, and their ideal reputation -- an agency that succeeds without striving, even in tough times.

An attractive agency

  • Over-responds to every problem and turns every event into an opportunity
  • Under-promises and over delivers – always
  • Masters its craft, innovates for sheer joy, invents new ways to work
  • Derives its strength from who it is rather than what it does
  • Is unconditionally constructive and sees perfection not problems in staff and client
Pie in the sky? Perhaps. Perhaps not. Any attractive agencies out there?

Monday, March 16, 2009

March "Gladness"

For basketball junkies, March is Nirvana. Upsets, David vs. Goliath, buzzer beaters, the Final Four. All rolled up into one month of March madness.

For PR agency execs, March madness takes on a different meaning. It is the end of the first quarter and that means 1st quarter P&L’s and the sobering reality of a slow start to 2009. But, don’t be mad. Instead be glad.

If you have already pared staffs (or are about to), cut salaries, and reduced discretionary spending -- if you’ve managed your financials well -- your firm should be poised to operate the remainder of the year at least break-even and hopefully eking out a small profit. That’s something for which to be glad.

Another bit of gladness is the small signal that the stock market may be on the verge of a little bit of recovery. Good news for all us and for our clients.

Finally, if you believe the notion of the media’s role in creating a self-fulfilling prophesy, I have seen some positive news recently that suggests the recession may end more quickly than once imagined.

We’re clearly not out of the woods, but March “gladness” is a lot better to contemplate than March madness.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Good to Great to Gone

The other day I sat in the examining room of a physician and picked up the only magazine in the room. It was the May 2008 FORTUNE 500 issue. In it was an article called “The Secret of Enduring Greatness” by Jim Collins of “Good to Great” fame.

Some facts are eye-openers and offer lessons for agency and other business leaders.
• Of the 500 companies on the original Fortune 500 list in 1955 only 71 remain.
• Nearly 2000 companies have appeared on the list and most are long gone.
• Some of the most powerful companies (Apple, Microsoft, Google) emerged from new technologies replacing old-line technologies
• Some of the best-known, traditional companies are no longer in existence.

These facts boost the argument that there is no such thing anymore as “enduring greatness.” But, Collins argues differently and points to a number of companies – P&G, GE, Nucor, Xerox, Wal-Mart (we all can name others) – that have endured and continue to be great.

He writes, “Whether you prevail, or fail, endure or die, whether you make it onto the Fortune 500, and whether you stay there, depends more on what you do to yourself than on what the world does to you.”

He goes on to say, that “throughout history the greatest companies have used adverse times to their advantage … The best corporate leaders never point out the window to blame external conditions; they look in the mirror and say we are responsible for our results.”

I’ll bet Mr. Collins shares that view even today.

We know that during the last recession of 2001-2002 a number of agencies departed this earth. Probably a few of them were really good, maybe some in their space were even great. Today they’re gone.

Great leaders create great agencies. They innovate, they invest, they take risks, they plan, and they create – even in the hardest of times.

Competition has never been fiercer. Now is the time to re-commit to being great – because “good” just won’t make it today.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Today's Fear Factor

Your employees are afraid. Fear is one of the most understandable emotions when times are tough, when they see colleagues being laid off, when they hear about budget cuts, clients leaving, and salary freezes.

Fear for one’s job leads to one of two behaviors: a) head down, keep to yourself, no boat-rocking, do your work and go home; or b) new energy, volunteering for assignments, idea-generation, visible activity, worry about productivity.

In the first case, the thinking goes, “if I’m not visible, maybe I can hide and escape the next round of layoffs.” Frankly, in most firms (even the largest) people cannot hide; they should not even try. These are exactly the people who will be the first to go.

In the second case, their fear stimulates activity. They want to be more valuable so you “cannot” let them go. And, more valuable to them means more visibility, asking for work, suggesting new ideas, doing their own new business prospecting, being highly billable, etc.

Some of these people have awakened too late and it’s a shame that it takes “fear” to motivate them. You’ll easily notice these new high-energy people. This will be new behavior for them.

Others have always behaved like this. They are the positive performers. They are normally fully billable, people want to work with them, clients value them, they attract and help win business; they are your stars.

But, recognize that your “stars” are fearful too. While they know they doing a good job, they wonder if that will be enough.

Everyone needs to be acknowledged for how they are feeling. But your stars need more. They need encouragement, positive reinforcement and a true understanding of their role and future in the organization. When times improve – as they will – these people will be most vulnerable to the lure of the new job. You must retain your stars to grow and prosper.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Looking at the Bigger Picture -- A Real-Life Fable

Once there was a client who hired an agency of record, which developed a PR program that called for lots of writing for the CEO. Now the writing was not bad – it just wasn’t the way the CEO liked it.This happens all the time and, with the help of the CEO and the prime client contact, the agency usually figures it out.

In my fable, however, it turns out that the CEO had worked with a public relations director in a previous job for 10 years. Now, that PR director was out of work and freelancing. Guess to whom he turned for work? And guess what the CEO did? Started giving him the writing assignments the agency was getting wrong. The agency complained to the client contact who, in the inimitable fashion of many clients, said, “you work it out.”

Now if times were flush, most agencies would confront the client with “that is not how you treat an agency of record”. The freelancer would probably go away and everyone would live happily ever after. And, if the client refused, the agency would terminate the relationship and focus on winning the next piece of business.

But, times are not flush and priority #1 is the care and feeding of your current clients. So the agency stepped back, thought about the bigger picture and came up with a creative solution. The AS contacted the freelancer, who, as it turns out, had significant experience in a segment the agency was trying to crack, but was limited in what he could do because he was a one-man band.

The agency created an alliance with the writer agreed that he should continue to write for the CEO in return for entrée into important new prospects under a shared revenue scheme.
It was a win-win for everyone. The client got the writer it wanted; the agency kept the rest of the business and won new business; and the freelancer boosted his revenue and had an agency at his back for support.

Talk about turning a negative into a positive!
Sounds like media training 101. Instead, it’s a way of looking at a situation that on the surface “sounds” like a problem. But, in reality represents an opportunity.

There are talented people who have started their own agencies or freelance business. They may need your support and you may need their talent and their contacts.

Today, look at the bigger picture.