May 27, 2009

Reposition Your Agency Now




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man-in-hammock If you think the ad agency business as we’ve known it will be soon returning to normal so you can relax a little this summer, forget it.

OK, so we’re seeing ‘green shoots’ in the economy as Bernanke says – little glimmers here and there that we’re no longer flat-lining. But when we emerge from this tunnel the scenery is going to be quite a bit different. It’s delusional to think we can pick up right where we left off before the economic balloon shriveled.

Times have changed.

Instead of waiting for things to improve, why not use the next few months to re-cast your agency for 2010 and beyond?

  • First, create a true strategic plan. With teeth, more definitive than merely “make more money than last year.” Set hard milestones and accountabilities with consequences for performance or lack thereof. Ad agencies aren’t wishing wells where you hope things magically get better; they’re businesses and should be run that way.
  • Fix the nagging internal ops which always seem to sabotage your efficiency. You know what’s not working – eliminate the bottlenecks and soft spots. Now.
  • Purge mediocre or over-ripe staff who are no longer growing. Too harsh, you say? Well for the times ahead you need fresh vigorous talent who’ll lead your agency into tomorrow, not back markers hung up on how easy it was in the good ole’ days (it’s an ideal time to hire because there’s a lot of recently displaced top-notch talent available who can really impact how you attract and keep better clients. See It’s Time to Hire.
  • Reorganize to meet today’s client needs and changing markets. Don’t be held hostage by old agency models dating back to when mass media and 15% commissions were king. Take a clean sheet of paper and redraw your agency structure around what works best for clients, not what’s easiest. You’ll never go wrong doing that.
  • Analyze your fees and client agreements then adjust as necessary. It always amazes me how afraid agencies are to raise rates when so many of their costs are going up. Stop complaining about how hard it is to make a buck and instead hike your rates so you can stay healthy. Courage, men!
  • Digital, social media, i-tech . . . They’re’ not add-ons, folks, which you can claim you’re competent in just by hiring a person or two. They’re where things are right now and the springboard to, well, who knows?

Of course you don’t have to change anything at all. Hey, as clients begin to spend again and the pressure abates, you can schedule more afternoons for golf, right?

Or. . . you could dedicate some of those golf afternoons to concentrate on what has to change so your agency can get ahead of the curve. You can use part of the summer to make smart decisions and reposition your agency so it won’t be a victim of the times, technologies, and changing tastes – to make it a leader not a follower.

Then again you could just flop into a hammock and wait for things go “back to normal.”



  1. All good advice, Joe…plans/goals, internal bottlenecks, staffing, client needs, fees, etc…but I don’t think any of those things really “reposition” an agency. They’re just good agency practices, nothing that really re-casts an agency. Following your points will, in large part, simply help you emerge on the “other side” as perhaps a more efficient version of the same agency. When I think of repositioning an agency, I think of changing and narrowing the focus of the agency, truly changing the reason for the agency. Why it exists. Who it serves. How it can become one of few credible substitutes in a given niche. While I think the points in your post are pretty standard tight-times tactics, I think your title to this post is dead on and provocative. Although the thought of repositioning right now is certainly scary to some, this really *is* the time to boldly reposition an agency. If you’ve got the guts to do it, it’s the thing that *can* set you apart and pave the path to smart, profitable bottom-line growth. The rest are just good business practices.

    Comment by Galen De Young — May 28, 2009 @ 8:26 am

  2. Good point. In retrospect, and considering your thoughtful comments, my blurb is poorly titled. I was trying to convey the importance of positioning an agency to be healthy when we come out of the dark times, but not ‘positioning’ in the Ries & Trout sense. You bring up an important issue: how to truly change the reason for the agency, as you put it — why it exists, who it serves, and so on. That’s what real repositioning would be. So, Galen, based on your experience RePositioning B2B companies, what do you recommend would make an agency successful in the next several years?

    Comment by Joe Grant — May 31, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

  3. Hi, Joe. I’ll pass on giving detailed advice to other agencies. My clients are clients. Yours are agencies. That’s your job. 🙂 In any event, they’re smart enough to figure it out. It just takes the determination and willingness to follow advice they often give clients, but all too often fail to follow themselves. Cobbler’s kid’s shoes, you know.

    Comment by Galen De Young — June 5, 2009 @ 4:21 pm

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