May 12, 2009

The Essence of Strategy


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strategy More and more I’m convinced the path to agency success is specialization.

Face it, agency-types are burdened by hubris. We’re too quick to say “Sure, we can do that,” and we probably honestly believe we can. One agency I know actually has this mission plaque hung in their lobby: Whatever the Client Wants.

But this kind of delusional thinking is what costs agencies tons of cash as they unrealistically respond to client needs. They’ll claim they do PR by hiring a “people person” to head a one person department, promote a computer game fiend to web designer, or anoint someone who knows how to text as the Digital Strategist.

Agencies that will do anything for anyone are like short order diners – they’re good at slapping out eggs & toast or meatloaf with mashed potatoes, but you wouldn’t expect them also to confect a delicate French sauce to accompany your Dover sole.

To channel Gordon Gecko for a moment, focus is good. Two quick stories will illustrate.

An agency in Indiana had a basket of different accounts some years ago. But their biggest one marketed highly regulated and complex products like ag chemicals and advanced technical equipment. They began to focus only on  “technical and scientific products” and now 5MetaCom is a profitable leader with a national reputation in a narrow but target-rich field.

The Max Borges Agency in Miami tells their whole story in 4 words: Pure Tech, Pure Results. Owner/founder Max will tell you, “All we do is get hits for tech gadgets. That’s it.” Sure, like most PR firms they could easily slide into hawking any kind of product but their strategy precludes distraction and they market themselves as experts.

And who doesn’t want to go to an expert? You can be an agency that’s expert in high tech gadgets, hospitality and travel, not-for-profit hospitals, or even petroleum drilling rig mud pumps.

I don’t buy that agencies will never know an advertiser’s market as well as the client does. That’s merely an excuse for mediocrity and bogus in our age of specialization. Clients want you to really know their market. . .  so you’ll concoct opportunities and flood them with proactive ideas.

Consider: the essence of strategy is sacrifice. To be an expert and reap the good stuff – including high fees, a reputation for effectiveness, and prospects begging you to take them on – you’ve got to sacrifice the dog and cat accounts that suck up so much time and money and yield so little, and concentrate instead on the one industry you know. . . where you do it better than anybody else.

That’s not hubris, by the way. It’s sound strategy. And yes, like most things requiring sacrifice, there’s payoff down the road.



  1. Joe,
    I couldn’t agree more. You can’t be all things to all people and especially if you plan to use social media as part of your own marketing mix.There’s no what to stand out unless you identify a niche.

    Comment by tradesmeninsights — May 12, 2009 @ 3:08 pm

  2. Right again of wise one!

    Comment by dennis moran — May 12, 2009 @ 4:45 pm

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