Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Part 3: Positioning Your Agency for 2010 Success

One of the most important aspects of your 2010 planning should be a critical evaluation of your relationships and work for your major clients.

I grew up in Burson-Marsteller, where formal account reviews were part of the fabric of the culture that made Burson a great firm.

It doesn’t matter how small (or large) your firm is, account reviews must be an integral part of your business planning. And, what better time than now as many companies are beginning to plan and establish marketing communications and public relations budgets for 2010.

Besides, how can you create your agency’s revenue goals without having a good handle on the revenue you can expect from your current clients?

While new business is the lifeblood of all agencies, organic growth from your existing clients is the easiest new business you will ever get. Yet, too many firms are concerned more with “just doing the work” than with building the relationships and uncovering new opportunities that will add revenue to the firm.

That’s where the account review comes in.

When I work with agencies on account reviews, we go through a structured process that answers the following questions, among others:

• A critical assessment of the work you did this past year and whether you really achieved the objectives and if not, why not? Where is the agency vulnerable?

• A financial review. Did fees increase or decrease? Was the account profitable? Why?

• Key challenges the client faces now and in 2010.

• What new ideas if implemented would have the greatest impact on the client’s business?

• How do you rate your client relationships? With whom must you build relationships in 2010 and how will you go about it?

• How do the key client contacts perceive the agency? Do you need to change that perception?

• Do you have the right staffing mix?

The account review can be an important part of your success in 2010. It eliminates surprises, helps you develop new ideas for new budgets, and creates a plan to build or reinforce key relationships.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Positioning Your Agency for 2010 Success -- Part 2

As I said in Part 1, it is not too early to start your planning for 2010. In fact, it is never too early to start thinking ahead about where you want your firm to be in the next 3 months, 6 months, year, or even three years.

This is called working “on” your business, not “in” your business. So, here’s my second critical strategy for success in 2010.

Strategy 2: Revisit Your Firm’s Vision and the Strategies to Get There

Once you’ve assessed 2009 and captured critical insights, start thinking about 2010. For me the first step in business planning is to understand how next year’s plan will move the firm toward what you want your agency to become. I’m not talking about meeting financial goals (though that’s obviously a key need), but rather your vision of the firm you want to create.

When you started your firm you had a vision even if you didn’t call it that. What’s happened to that vision? Still valid? Needs to be reassessed? Already achieved it? Not possible?

Having a clear and compelling vision of the firm you want to “become” is the cornerstone of a great agency and the hallmark of great leadership. It is also a vital step in successful and meaningful business planning.

I have conducted visioning sessions and strategy sessions for more than 25 firms and I can assure you unless you have a roadmap – a guide – for where you want to end up and how you will get there, the journey will be so much harder.

“Most companies fail in their growth because they don’t have a vision,” says former Southwest Airlines CEO Howard Putnam. “When you have a vision and someone comes to you with some convoluted idea, you can hold it up to the vision and ask ‘Does it fit? Does it fly? If not, don’t bother me.’”

It worked for Southwest and scores of other major corporations – and it has worked for agencies both large and small.

Here are some criteria for a vision:

• It must be realistic, yet idealistic and cannot be achieved without “stretching”.
• It is aspirational – future-oriented. A vision is not today; it is tomorrow.
• It must be attractive to you your staff. They must want to be a part of it.
• It provides direction for the future in succinct, often competitive terms.
• Most importantly, your vision must be specific enough to become a filter for key decision-making.

Commit to making every major decision in 2010 -- staffing, resources, investments, new business, marketing, etc., -- one that propels your firm towards your vision.

Once you have the vision that excites you and your team, begin to identify the strategies over time to get there. Make it a three-year horizon. As you begin your 2010 planning, review and prioritize these strategies and build in next year’s strategies into your actual business plan.

Finally, identify the barriers to achieving those strategies, specify how you will overcome each and then commit to overcoming them in 2010.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Positioning Your Agency for 2010 Success -- Part 1

What’s the old saying – the early bird catches the worm? I think it’s true for agencies too.

Now is the time when many forward-thinking firms are beginning to start their planning for 2010. I’ve already begun to work with firms on their next year’s plan.

I am going to give you six key strategies that will guarantee you a successful 2010 (full disclosure: I cannot fix the economy but I am confident it is improving) and here’s the first.

Strategy 1: Critically Assess 2009

It is extremely important that before you start your 2010 planning you take a critical assessment of 2009. Put the economic issues aside for this. What did you learn about your agency?

Review the following:

Time management and staff billability. Are you meeting industry benchmarks? Are you spending your time working on your business not just in your business? Where can you be morfe efficient? What did you neglect in 2009 that you won;t tolerate in 2010?

Process improvement. Where can you improve your internal processes? What's not working well?

Financial data. Are you getting the right reports to help you understand your P&L, running rates, monthly revenue against budget, accounts receivables, etc?

Standards of excellence. Do you have them – both internal and external? Does your staff adhere to them? What must you do differently in 2010 to make these standards the basic fabric of your business?

Management team. Are you satisfied with their performance? Do you need to make changes? Does the team really help you run your agency effectively? What do you need them to do differently next year?

Staffing. Where do you need to upgrade staff? What new positions might you need to establish?

Services. What new services, capabilities, or expertise do you need to add to keep your firm on the forefront of trends in your business or improve your offering to clients?

Marketing and business development. How effective was your agency marketing and business development programs? What do you need to do to improve them?

Don’t drink your own Kool Aid! Look at these and other issues with a critical eye as you start to plan for a great 2010.