March 6, 2012

RFPs: The Right Way

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business — Joe Grant @ 2:59 pm

An RFP comes your way and the prospect is right up your alley. You decide it’s Full Speed Ahead!

Here’s the first thing to remember about answering RFPs: it’s nothing more than a stand-in for you. It’s a salesman. And so it needs to be likable, concise, and focused entirely on prospect need. Just like you if you were in the room when they read it.

Appoint a battle captain – Each RFP requires a heavyweight, one of your best, with the clout to marshal the company resources so it gets done with the least amount of tears and sweat. Don’t give it to someone with time on his hands and don’t anoint a neophyte either; there’s too much at stake.

1st Draft – Have a professional writer write it, someone who despises subjunctive clauses and passive voice. Do not dole out sections to multiple authors or else it will read like a committee’s fractured report. Edit ruthlessly. Be concise. Leave out all that just-in-case fluff which can make it look like you’re throwing spaghetti on the wall to see what sticks. This is an ad for your agency – write it like one!

Focus on 1 takeaway – Like any good ad there should be a singular mental leave-behind, an inescapable shimmering message pointed directly at THEM. Even though they want the goods on you, think about it: it’s not about you, it’s really about them, right?

Which means you have to use plenty of these phrases: This is relevant to (prospect) because… This benefits you several ways… Our experience here applies directly to (prospect’s) needs because… Tie any horn-tooting to their unexpressed but ever present “what’s-this-mean-for-us” concerns.

Cautions on case histories – Fuse each to their needs — never parade a case history without tightly lacing it to their problems and opportunities. Think of it this way: your case histories have to be in effect about them. Two, maybe three are all you need or else it gets confusing. Too many or too long and your best success stories appear merely self-aggrandizing.

Art direct it – Put an art director to work making your RFP response fun and accessible. Tell a story, use cartoons, make it a joy to read. But keep in mind this is your sales guy in loco agentis so don’t go over the top or it will have the same effect as wearing a loud plaid sport coat.

Bio-prudence – Be careful about showcasing every last person in the agency. Instead, customize each bio with something like, Susie Smith will be [prospect]’s primary day-to-day contact. She’s known for…and her experience [describe] applies directly to your marketing needs becauseThe idea is to make them WANT Susie working on their business, and of course the same goes for others on your list. Throwing in too many resumes can look like you’re padding… and expensive.

Show some ankle – Imagine their surprise when buried in all those somniferous RFPs they’re plowing through, yours gives them just a little tease, a lagniappe, by showing one or two snippets of creative with their logo or product. Now you’ve got their attention and if you do it right they’ll want to see more. Bada-bing! I’m not suggesting creating full-blown campaigns, but use their name and I.D. when you can. It’s flattering.

Be memorable – Nothing’s more disappointing when we do “lost prospect” interviews (see below) than learning that the client, who chose someone else, doesn’t even remember your proposal. It means you made no impression whatsoever! Well of course they didn’t choose you — if it wasn’t crafted to be memorable, how could you possibly create arresting materials for them? Be not afraid to risk a little – you can’t lose what you don’t have.

Table appeal – Client committees often begin their decision-making meeting by laying out all the RFP proposals side by side on a conference room table. Make sure yours stands out and is immediately recognizable. Don’t be like the agency — I’m not making this up — that not only failed to have it’s name on the proposal cover, it wasn’t anywhere inside either!

Keep these suggestions in mind and let us know if your batting average improves.

Our sales pitch – We interview “lost prospects,” i.e. the ones you didn’t get, to find out why you’re not winning your share of new business. Because we’re an outside source, clients tend to give us direct answers which we use to provide you with straight-shooting recommendations on how to stop striking out. For details, call Joe Grant at 239.537.6133 direct to find out more. It’s a small investment which can pay off big.

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November 14, 2011

3 Things Every Agency Owner Should Know

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,Leadership — Joe Grant @ 2:03 pm

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1. Delegate Everything But Genius
We’ve counseled a lot of really bright creative folks over the years who’ve built their own jails and locked themselves inside. They wanted an outlet for their creativity so they started their own companies…and quickly got caught in the quicksand of “management.”

You know what that is – refereeing personality conflicts, motivating recalcitrant associates, approving supply purchases, making sure the conference room is cleaned up. . . Help!

Managing the little stuff is not what makes you successful. It’s capitalizing on your unique talents which nobody else has or can do the way you do. Anything else which distracts, upsets, perturbs, or otherwise beats you down to the point that you can’t do what you’re best at – and what you enjoy most – must be delegated or deleted. Hire it out or give it to somebody else to worry about. But don’t waste your most precious resource: you.

Your special talents are all you have to make your little enterprise work. It’s soul-splitting to create profound strategic ideas one moment and the next order paper clips. If you can’t delegate everything but what you master like no one else, get a therapist to help you understand why. Or else you’ll be welding the bars shut on your own cell.

2. It’s Not About You
Entrepreneurs can get so pumped up by contemporary can-do literature that they actually begin to believe they’re “partners” with their clients. They’ll say, “But we’re different than others – we’re true partners.”

Whoa! At the very best you’ll work determinedly to become a trusted resource, but becoming a true partner – with skin in the game, skin that bleeds? Not likely.

Think about it: a partnership is a business relationship in which you furnish part of the capital and labor for a money-making enterprise then share in subsequent profits or losses. Do you do that? No, your company merely provides a service and thinking you have a commensurate relationship with a client is a self-flattering delusion.

If you get over thinking you’re indispensable or equal it will be a lot easier doing what you’re really good at.

Truth is, it’s not about you and never has been. No matter how insightful or groundbreaking you think your contributions are, they’re merely a small part of your client’s galaxy of issues and opportunities. That’s why they don’t call you back when you wish they would – they have bigger (to them) elephants to shoot.

3. Know If Your Clients Are Happy
Market research is imperative because it’s so dangerous to “presume” what the market thinks of our products and services.

Yet in a client-centered business where relationships are based on so much more than just occasional purchases, we’re convinced we know how we’re doing.

Really? Then why do Adweek and AdAge have weekly cover stories about account firings where agency honchos misread the smoke signals and in their hubris believed their client relationships were impregnable?

Don’t rely on the account team to tell you how great things are; after all, their opinions are likely a conflict of interest. Instead consider having your relationships audited by a disinterested 3rd party because people, especially in close business relationships, aren’t comfortable telling you directly what you need to know.

They’ll complain about you to others, they’ll talk behind your back, but they won’t tell you face to face. It’s human nature – many of us can’t stand conflict. An objective survey will yield factual evidence of what needs to be improved – by both parties.

Many agencies use our Client Satisfaction Survey to improve client retention and reignite account profitability. To find out more, call or e-mail. Or read the Client Retention section on our website. As one client said, “I’m impressed the agency is actually auditing itself – it proves they’re committed to my business.”
(The above is from 15 Things Every Agency Owner Should Know. The article is available in its entirety on our home page.)

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September 12, 2011

Are Your Clients CPFs?

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,Leadership — Joe Grant @ 9:09 am

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As a young account supe a couple of decades ago I remember it seemed like our CEO at Ketchum Pittsburgh did nothing but play golf or go to ball games and dinner with CEOs of our clients Westinghouse, ALCOA, H.J. Heinz, PPG, etc. What a life, I thought – to be paid all that money to schmooze, play golf, and have a cold one on the 19th during business hours! All while we lackeys sweated in windowless offices to get estimates approved or minor copy changes made.

Until one day there was a significant crisis involving a potential conflict of interest.

We were about to lose one of our largest blue-chip accounts (and my job would have gone, too) when the agency’s Big Guy came down the hall and announced to our account group that he’d worked things out with his close personal friend, the client CEO. Everything was fixed with a phone call.

As the years went by and more senior positions came my way, a couple of things became clear. First, no matter how diligently you worked or how good the work itself was, in this business things may get badly sideways for reasons beyond your control. Second, these pickles are best resolved by the top people – the agency president relying on the friendship and trust developed over time with his or her client counterpart.

I call it making your client a CPF – a Close Personal Friend.

Sounds a little unctuous, I suppose, until you remember that at its core business is all about relationships. . . and it’s easier to do business with a friend. Because with friends you forgive the occasional bumps and navigate rough patches knowing that your friendship will pull you both through.

It also helps to remember that clients are not just tools or a means to an end.

They’re people with families, issues, interest and hobbies, and problems, trying to do the best job they can. They deserve friendship. Some of my closest lifelong friends were once clients; our friendships have lasted way beyond mere business deals.

Agency/client relationships sustain and work best when they’re fastened firmly at the top. Because everything else is just too fragile: people come and go and reporting structures often change. So the place to attach and snug up the anchor bolts is where things are least likely to shift: at the top.

Don’t be like an agency owner we know who refuses to “get his hands dirty” by spending time with senior client people. He’s uninvolved, preferring to have his minions do that messy client stuff. That’s a mistake and in fact he’s on the way to tough times – his clients told us (through our Client Survey program) that shunning them will soon have negative consequences.

Look, it’s not all about schmoozing, that’s for sure. The agency should be held accountable for tangible outcomes and ROI, especially these days when every expenditure must be justified. Performance and measurable results are table stakes in any client/agency relationship.

But if you’re an agency principal, it’s in your interest to make all your clients CPFs. We need all the friends (and clients) we can get, right?

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January 10, 2011

8 Ways to Fortify Your Accounts

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 6:00 pm


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oddanimals160 1. Internal account reviews – unless you commit to a measurable process for ongoing improvement, account teams will default to nothing more than enclaves of apathy. Account by account, herd everyone who works on the business into a room and walk through financial performance, market dynamics, client internal politics, growth opportunities, and agency soft spots, (see How Quarterly Reviews Make a Difference). Craft a 90-day action plan then do it all over again 3 months later. Accounts left unmanaged – “un-led” describes it better – eventually disappear.

2. What’s the plan? – seat-of-the-pants clients who hurl last minute projects at you which they’ve known about for months need to be roped into a plan before everybody goes nuts. Your mission: hold an annual planning retreat with every major client (or maybe do it every 6 months). Go offsite and spend a day planning TOGETHER what you’ll do and how you’ll work for the rest of the year. By the way, you pick up the tab – it’s the cheapest way we know to keep an account for at least another year.

3. Capabilities presentations – a lot has changed since this time last year – the client’s people and yours, market dynamics, competition, your competencies. Host a meeting to get your client current on your new capabilities – talented new staffers, new services and departments, enhanced capacity – and you’ll reinforce their decision to hire (and keep) you. Remember, it’s entirely possible that at this very moment your competitors are prepping a similar song-and-dance to woo your very clients to greener grass. The first rule of client retention is Never, ever take an account for granted.

4. Know your clients better – Plan now to attend some trade shows, visit outlying factories or stores in other markets, or put people through a client’s instruction program (“Put ’em behind the grill,” we used to say in the fast food business). Do it on your nickel; it will be a statement. Clients don’t expect you to know everything about their business, but they want you to know more.

5. Reset the bar – Proactivity is at least 50% of keeping a client. Challenge the account and creative folks to generate one big spanking fresh idea for each client every quarter. All that high priced talent you’re warehousing ought to be able to come up with four sparkling ideas a year the client wasn’t anticipating. I’m talking big stuff here. It’s what they expect – unsolicited solutions and opportunities.

6. Fix the inside stuff – straighten out the sloppy or ineffective things in your own house that hinder your ability to deliver timely and flawless execution. If a recalcitrant internal department is road-blocking or you’re burdened with balky infrastructure, fix it. Because should the gods smile and you land all that projected new business, those internal snafus will really gum up the works when your agency machine gets larger.

7. Switch creative teams – people get stale working on the same stuff. Stir things up by assigning creative Team A to do a project for Team B’s clients. Sure, they won’t know all the peculiar little never-dos, but that’s exactly what you want – fresh thinking. You’ll reinvigorate the creative gang, give the account people practice in delivering lucid strategic briefs to an unfamiliar audience, and generate something fresh for your clients.

8. Revisit promises – when you pitched your brains out getting Client X, you made commitments and promises, written and unwritten. Ah, romance! But like any romance, promises uttered in the heat of the moment often fade. Dig out and revisit the presentation. Recommit to deliver the things you said you’d do – sort of like renewing marriage vows. Promises left unfulfilled undermine trust.

Now get out there and try some of these. They work, guys.


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September 23, 2010

Cork the Whine

Filed under: Career Advice,Client/Agency Relations,Leadership,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 12:01 pm


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It’s 1:30 and you breeze out the agency door bellowing, “I’m off to see those dumbass s.o.b.s again.”

Ah, the much anticipated client meeting! When you arrive a half hour later to do business with them, what do you think happens to all that bad karma?

Our business is simple: agencies have relationships with clients to help them sell stuff. If you have a bad attitude about your clients, things just aren’t going to go smoothly.

But they’re jerks, you say? Well, OK. Here’s some straight-ahead advice.

First of all, clients are your customers, for crisakes! Didn’t you once beg these guys to become a client, promising them your first-born and swearing you’d practically live at their place? Just think about that for a moment. It’s really all you need to know. Clients are your customers.

But if you harbor dark thoughts about what scoundrels these clients be you’ll not only infect your colleagues and extinguish their passion for working on this account, you’ll also plant an adverse message in your own subconscious mind, telling it you just don’t care. When you don’t care – even though you swear you’re a pro – you dam the ability to generate good ideas, deplete your energy, and imperceptibly arrest your skyward career. Not good.

Now if you’re an agency principal you have bigger issues. I’ve seen presidents bad mouth clients, post ridiculing emails and cartoons, and get up in front of Monday morning status meetings to publicly (but of course behind their backs) insult and drag down the very people they’d present a multimillion dollar campaign to that afternoon. Does this make sense? It certainly isn’t what anyone would call professional.

Look, clients are rarely bad people. They’re just ordinary folks much like you who find themselves having to work for a living and probably doing all they can to survive capricious management and pay their bills. They’re your clients, your customers. Don’t let your attitude cripple your ability to do business with them.

When you’ve got challenging clients, here’s a simple trick for getting beyond yourself by doing something for yourself. Yes, that’s a tortuous sentence but stick with me here.

Give them a gift, if you will, of a little something extra – something they weren’t expecting or didn’t ask for. But do it without any expectation of being appreciated. Maybe they will thank you; then again maybe they won’t. Thanks is beside the point here. You don’t give a gift to get thanks – you do it because it’s a good unselfish thing to do.

You might ask, why do something nice for someone who won’t appreciate it? Simple answer (and herein lies the magic): because it’s YOUR opportunity to behave one notch up on the scale of human beingness. You do it because it’s a small act of polishing your own self. In a way, I suppose, that makes it selfish but a good kind of selfish.

Clients have good and bad days; some clients are more difficult to deal with than others. Your job is to maintain yourself on a personal high road, not to get drawn to their level. The really successful account people we know seamlessly maintain their professional mien.

In the end it’s about the choices you make. You can choose to snarl and moan about what a lousy client they are, come home at night and kick the dog, take comfort in an extra scotch or two…

Or you can simply say it is what it is. And then concentrate on bringing your best game no matter the circumstances.


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April 5, 2010

How to Keep Accounts Fresh

Filed under: Career Advice,Client/Agency Relations,New Business,Staying Fresh — Joe Grant @ 1:53 pm


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ImagePretty exciting when you begin to pursue a new client, isn’t it. The thrill of the chase! You lie awake rhapsodizing about how great it will be, you woo them with dinners and surprises, no effort is too much to show your commitment. Ah, romance!

But as in any romance, things can easily get boring. The agency morphs into “account waiters” dozing by the phone for the client to call in an order. This year’s media plan is a duplicate of last year’s; the creative is tired. Your best people somehow migrate to the more exciting businesses which only compounds the problem. What happened to all those stimulating initial meetings? Not to mention the promises made in the pitch.

It’s not unusual. Every account of every size at every agency goes through similar troughs. But smart agencies do all they can to rejuvenate waning accounts. Such as:

Capabilities Presentations – A lot has probably changed since you started working together. So at least once a year invite the client over to remind them of your abilities and competence. Include a summary of the work you’ve done and critique it. Perhaps you have new people, or they do, or new services to offer. Ask the client for a little song and dance about themselves, too – including market trends, new products in the pipeline, and organizational changes. Just getting ready for this meeting will be energizing and everyone will be pumped in the afterglow.

Freshening Exercises – Get some different points of view by asking staffers who don’t work on the account to review it. Have them each write a 1-page suggestion plan to improve things. Or hold a brainstorm session, again with people not normally assigned to the business, to solve problems and look for opportunities. Ours is a creative business and good ideas about a client’s business aren’t just the province of the daily team. Open it up so you generate contributions from everyone.

Switch Teams – Why not? Nowhere is it written that you can’t occasionally change personnel on an account, though you’ve got to make sure there’s continuity and the client doesn’t feel like s/he’s starting from scratch. Big agencies do this all the time to keep things fresh. After all, for the client it’s like getting a new agency without the added aggravation and cost. And you get to keep the client.

Sound Retreat – Go offsite with your client and refocus on the important things. Maybe you host a strategic planning session for the coming year or just take time away from the office to take stock; you can make this part of your review protocol. Craft a collaborative mission statement for you and the client, tackle issues there never seems to be time for during the daily crunch, and perhaps make time to just relax and bond – an occasion to have fun again. And that’s why you got into this business in the first place, right? To have fun, damnit.

Put your head to it and you’ll think of lots of way to bring the romance back to your accounts. Do the unexpected, the little things, the pleasant surprises (good ones, of course).

In our work helping agencies reach their potential, time and again the same handful of issues holds agencies back from what they might become, or worse, sinks them all together.

Here’s a powerful question to ask: What would you want if you were the client?


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March 1, 2010

Run for the Roses

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations,New Business — Joe Grant @ 12:34 pm


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Suppose you were in the nursery business. You’d want to produce flat after flat of pretty, healthy plants all about the same size and color. You’d water them the same, fertilize them evenly, and make sure they got consistent sunlight. Your uniform approach would yield predictable and we’ll assume profitable results.

Now let’s imagine you’re in the race horse business. You’d buy and breed only a few horses with outstanding potential, hoping to find that exceptional one that would be a big winner. If you were lucky enough to develop an extraordinary animal you’d pour your resources into it. You’d hire top notch trainers, sign up a world-class jockey, provide the very best veterinary care and so on. You’d invest and re-invest in your highly talented find so it would yield outstanding returns.

We try to make clients fit into systems and procedures convenient for us. We make them adjust to our estimating and invoicing systems and balk when they request more information or want it in a different form. We expect clients to meet our scheduling priorities…and our creative idiosyncrasies.

Leo (of the agency bearing that name) understood the racehorse idea. There was a time when Burnett strategically chose to house no more than 11 great accounts, each handled befitting the unique bloodline they represented.

During those years they never tried to put the same saddle on different steeds.

We can learn from this, even in small agencies. Critical to your success is engaging people ideally suited to sensing the nuances of individual client needs, functioning like an intuitive equine trainer. With the right kind of handling accounts will grow strong at your agency generating dependable and expanding profits year after year. Managing each like the one-of-a-kind entity it is will yield much better results than sprinkling handfuls of Rapid-Gro across your roster.

Are you willing to let your account folks run the business…and not allow operations-types to ride roughshod over them?

Accounting, traffic, and others with a proclivity for homogeneity need to understand that making a god of uniformity could well prevent the agency from making a run for the roses.

So are you like the gardener managing for normalcy, carefully applying identical amounts of water and fertilizer to each row of flowers for uniform results? Or like the horse whisperer – intuiting subtleties to seamlessly deliver both what your individual client wants and simultaneously giving them what they need.

You gotta decide what kind of business you’re in.


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November 5, 2009

Account Dog-paddling


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29828810.DogPaddleIt’s fun watching kids learn to swim. They quickly master the dog-paddle and thrash mightily in water above their heads to stay, we hope, safely afloat. Lots of splashing and churning, little arms and legs whirling like propellers, trying not to sink or gulp the yucky water.

Lots of accounts are run like that. Try to keep your head above water and hope you’ll reach the other side of the pool before your arms fall off. I call it account dog-paddling.

Our client survey work (learn more at Why You Should Audit Your Clients) proves this is a big issue for clients. “Proactivity,” or more precisely lack of same, is the number one frustration clients have. And it’s usually the primary reason clients shop for a new agency.

Ah, yes – proactivity. It means observing what’s going on, seeing that things can be improved or enhanced, and – pay attention here – taking the initiative and being accountable for getting it done.

Here are 6 things you can do to stimulate proactivity either individually or as an agency team:

1. Inside Account Reviews – This is an internal work-out session to take a candid look at how each piece of business on your roster can be improved. It goes like this. Gather everyone who works on Account X (do it for all accounts) every 3 months for a gloves-off meeting to discuss the financials, client marketing
issues, how you’re handling the account, and challenges and opportunities. Imperative: candor (and no finger-pointing!). Here’s a complete how-to on the process of Quarterly Account Reviews.

2. Meta-thinking – Real progress is made only when people are dissatisfied with commonplace results. Establish attainable objectives for account leadership, of course, but then exceed them. Rewards and incentives should be granted not just for hitting the marks, but going above and beyond. This way of thinking is what separates champions from also-rans. Never be satisfied doing only what’s expected.

3. Long Term Expectations – Agencies that successfully keep and grow accounts focus on what clients need not just today, but 12 to 24 months from now. That’s how you build lifetime value for your services. Have you asked your clients what their needs will be over the next 2 years so you’re building bench
strength and competencies now? Again, see Why You Should Audit Your Clients.

4. Cross Pollination – Get your best people working with the weakest teams. Stagnant accounts can dramatically accelerate when stronger people get involved and the less experienced learn from them. There’s your training program! We wrote a piece a while back about training that puts the onus where it belongs – on the trainees – called The Answer to Training.

5. Everybody’s Creative – Coming up with fresh ideas is not the sole province of the “creative” department. It’s everybody’s business when you work in a company chartered to develop sticky ideas. So inspire people to think around corners. Publicly applaud innovators at every level and fuel more creativity by rewarding new
thinking wherever you see it. What in your agency can’t be improved with more creative thinking?

6. Give To Get – Agencies these days are so fearful of a skidding bottom line that they dismiss one of the best business-building tools available: giving something away for free as an investment in future business. Hey, it’s not imprudent; in fact the opposite is true. Example: the restaurant manager who gifts a free dessert as a special thank-you or to amend for poor service creates a lifetime customer for the cost of a piece of pie. Don’t be afraid to be generous with your clients – it pays off in the long haul.

Proactivity is a way of thinking, a mindset based on believing there’s always more or better you can do, that the same old way, just because it’s comfortable, isn’t the best.

Or put another way, if you don’t learn to go from dog-paddling to freestyle you’ll never make it to the other side of the pool.

Not to mention how tired your arms and legs will get.

October 1, 2009

Why You Should Audit Your Clients

An unabashed pitch for a Client Perception Study


Do you wish you could read your clients’ minds to know what they really think about your agency? Do you know how they feel about your creative product, or if that new hire you just made is working out? Do you know for sure if they’re thinking of putting the account up for review? Or what if you knew just what it would take to get more or maybe all of their business?

Agency principals who have the answers to these and similar questions are the ones presiding over growing, thriving agencies. Because ignorance is not bliss.

Grant Consulting is about making your agency work the way you want it to. We’ve perfected a proprietary process to get straight answers to tough questions from your clients that you can use to keep them happy, grow their accounts, and lead to new and more profitable business.

We call it the Client Perception Studyand we’ve been doing it for agencies around the country since ’92. In every case those agencies are now larger and more profitable than ever, even considering the economic rough patch we’ve just been through. In several instances we’ve actually saved accounts that were about to go out the door.

With our Study, everything is account-specific; there are no meaningless generalities. This is not a one-size-fits-all “survey” clients have to fill out. There’s no, “Responsiveness decreased from 4.7 to 4.6.”  What the hell does that tell you?

Instead, with the Client Perception Study:

· You’ll know who at your clients thinks what about your agency so you can fix specific problems and         perceptions

· You’ll signal to clients your commitment to on-going improvement

· You’ll have a tangible way to enhance value and justify cost because you’ll be managing for results not just effort

· You can use the results – many agencies do – as the key tool for staff performance reviews

Think of it this way: how many clients can you afford to lose? For probably less than you spend on client travel and entertainment, you can find out exactly how to manage your accounts for maximum profit and longevity.

To find out more – what it costs, what you’ll receive, how it’s customized on a client-by-client basis, etc. –  call Joe Grant at 239/394-8220 to chat about your particular situation. No obligation whatsoever.

By the way, we’re happy to put you directly in touch with other agency principals who use our Client Perception Study to grow their revenue and profits. Call 239/394-8220 and we’ll give you the scoop.


PS. How’s your new business these days – not winning all the new accounts you think you should? Our Lost Prospect Reports and recommendations can pinpoint problems and give you the information you need to get back on the winning track. Ask us about it.


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September 10, 2009

The Biggest Mistake Agency CEOs Make


Well, after spending my entire adult life in the agency business and the last 16+ years consulting exclusively with agency principals, I’ve come to a conclusion about the single biggest mistake agency CEOs make.

It’s this: You won’t win the race unless you field the best horse you can.

Obvious, for sure, but think about it. In agency new business pitches, if you have the best people, you win; in Creative, if you have the best people, you win; in Account Service, if you have the best, you keep on winning. Have the best in your agency or on the track and you win. It’s as simple as that.

But it’s also why so many agencies fail to finish in the money. What holds agencies back more than anything else is bad hiring.

Not hiring ‘mistakes,’ BAD HIRING.

Though this appears to be a blinding glimpse of the obvious, I’d argue it isn’t so to agency CEOs and owners who often nudge hiring decisions downward to department heads with less-seasoned judgment, or to HR directors with little more training than they’re a ‘people person’ who demonstrates an uncanny ability to remember birthdays. CEOs, especially as an agency grows, too often abdicate their single most critical responsibility affecting the agency’s character and success: hiring the best.

Not so at an agency I know hovering around $50 million where the CEO will not sign off on a hire until he personally has taken the candidate to lunch or dinner. Why a meal? Because there he can’t escape what he knows can be an uncomfortable and often banal conversation wherein he can learn, often painfully, a lot about the candidate. He’s written off many $100 dinners that halted a hire at the 11th hour and claims it’s the best money he spends.

Sure, it can be awkward engaging in mindless chit-chat with someone up for a back office slot, but you’re a good judge of values and character – will this person deliver sound judgment affecting hundreds of thousands of dollars of agency income? Will he or she forge lasting deep relations centered on trust and honesty – both in and outside the agency?

You know, community theaters spend more time auditioning amateur actors for roles they’ll play for only a few weekends than most agencies do discovering if they’re getting just the right person. Too often it’s enough merely to “fill the position” when you should be putting the aspirant through as tough a grilling session as you’d give the ‘dude’ wanting to marry your daughter. Because it’s at least as important.

Hey, and if money’s in the way, veto those budget line items like buying new computers. More sophisticated equipment in the hands of the less skilled will only make your agency look inadequate faster. Instead, invest and then reinvest in the one thing that will always move you ahead: the best people you can get.

This is a great time to scout and enlist new talent. There’s more available (and affordable) cream out there than there’s been in a long while.

You can’t name anything that has more impact on your agency’s run for the roses than making your foremost priority hiring the very best.


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