I find that many new agencies start and exist in their “formative years” (say 2-3 years old) by operating by the “seat of their pants.” Often I’m told, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”
Typically that’s because the owners grew up (as we all did) as account people with little or no experience running a business.
Many of these firms are doing well or at least holding their own – even in the recession. However, this is a critical time for newer firms.
As we begin to pull out of the recession, more established agencies will reap the benefits of longevity, reputation, vision, and an awareness of who they are and what they do well.
Newer firms normally don’t have the luxury of brand reputation or brand recognition and often they have no clear direction or vision of the kind of firm they want to become nor of the niches in which they need to specialize. Specialization helps builds reputation, and determining where and how to specialize is one of the most difficult decisions facing a young firm.
So what do new firms need to do to remain or become competitive? Here are four tips:
1. Create a vision of the firm you want to become (to look like) over the next three years. This vision will then lead to the strategies to help you get there. But, be sure to also identify the barriers to success and how you will overcome those barriers.
2. Be brutally honest with yourselves about what you do well and for whom. Decide what your agency will focus on. It could be a functional skill (e.g., crisis communications) or it could be an industry niche (e.g., luxury goods). It’s OK to have 2-4 specialties, but not seven or eight.
3. Identify your ideal client. Where have you been really successful? Profile that ideal client (what factors made it successful?) and resist the temptation (read money) to take business that doesn’t meet your ideal client profile.
4. Build a marketing program around your wisdom and knowledge. What do you stand for? Where is your thought leadership? If you don’t know, then think long and hard. Gaining recognition in the long haul comes from your clients and the work you do. But, for newer firms, getting those great clients will come from building a reputation based on what you stand for. That’s thought leadership.
There will great opportunities for communications firms in the near future. If you are new, if you have been successful, congratulations. Now the real work starts.