October 16, 2009

Real vs. Perceived Value


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Smart, witty, provocative – that’s adman Rory Sutherland, current Vice Chairman at Ogilvy and one of the most entertaining brains you’re likely to meet.

I came across him at TED, the worldwide confab of technology, entertainment, and design leaders which now freely distributes highlights of their conferences on the web at this site. Anytime you want a little juice for your head, go there.

Meantime, sit back for a few minutes and be enthralled by Rory Sutherland’s take on perceived value. It’s a hoot.


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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August 5, 2009

True New Business Debacles

Filed under: New Business — Joe Grant @ 7:00 am
Tags: , ,


Tale #1 – Agency A answers an RFP for a $7 million account right up its alley. The decision was made in an instant: go for it! They work day and night and basically halt all other new business activity – getting this plum is too important and besides, if they win it their problems are over.

Outcome: You probably know how this story ends. The final selection was put off several months. . . then one day the phone rings. “It was a really tough decision, it was so close. . . but we’re awarding the business to the other guys.” Too bad.

Really too bad because Agency A did virtually no other new business work from February until July, nearly half a year. They put just one big egg in their basket. . .and it didn’t hatch.

Tale # 2 – Agency B wins the MegaBiz account, its largest ever, located in a city 850 miles away. Happy days are here again! Except it’s a little like the snake that swallowed a pig – it takes a long time to digest and almost kills the snake.

“But that’s OK, we’re going to make tons of money on MegaBiz.” They hire some high-ticket staffers, open a satellite office, reorganize the agency – ain’t this fun? Overcome by hubris, the agency purposely stops all new business activity for most of the year: “Because we just can’t handle winning another big account right now.”

Outcome: Oops. MegaBiz income dribbles in at 15% of projection (it’s a long story but, among other things, because they didn’t dig deep enough upfront they weren’t dealing at the top of the food chain –  never even met the true decision-maker until after they landed the account). The agency reacts (correctly) by dumping a dozen people and shuttering the satellite office. But, cash reserves are down to zero, morale sucks, and the whole time not a lick of significant new business work gets done.

The moral to these stories? The biggest and costliest mistakes you’re likely to make are in those first blushing moments when you pick up the scent of a new piece of business. When the phone call or RFP comes in agencies have been known to go dumb like a gawky teenage boy asked by a pretty girl to dance.

All I’m saying is think each opportunity through, thoroughly. And never EVER stop working every single day on new business.

July 14, 2009

Types of Clients to Avoid

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations — Joe Grant @ 1:06 pm
Tags: ,


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Got clients? And do ya’ love ’em? Don’t miss seeing this video – it explains everything!

Share it with your colleagues. . . and your clients, too.


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June 18, 2009

Difficult Bosses


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mean_boss_73212333 Bosses. Job satisfaction surveys say the #1 reason people stay or leave a job is the kind of boss they have. That’s even more important than salary.

So I was thinking yesterday about some of the bosses I’ve had or worked with. They all – every one of them – wanted to do a good job. But there were some who sabotaged themselves and their agency’s success, usually with a runaway ego or blinding pride.

There was the guy who absolutely refused to change what he knew were destructive behaviors. So a group of us, taking our families’ futures directly into our hands, staged an intervention to help him realize how he was hurting the agency and everyone in it. I’m not talking about a he’s-drinking-his-lunch intervention (he shunned alcohol; too bad, it might have helped!). No, his problem was extreme moodiness, swings from hyper-micromanagement to total apathy, temper tantrums (full-scale: throwing things, screaming, threatening to fire everybody on the spot). He refused professional counseling and last I heard he’s still limping along with a just a small staff. The rest of us left years ago.

There was another agency CEO who demanded every single communication be passed under his nose for approval. Talk about no empowerment! Work was always in queue for approval; things were constantly jammed up and late. Anything that mentioned money or implied the agency would be obligated in any way was subject to his OK or veto. He trusted nobody.

One more example: an agency CEO whose habit is to always reject all projects with “not good enough.” Many are plenty good enough of course, but she believes people are intrinsically lazy and never give their best unless they’re scourged like Roman slaves rowing a galleon.

For the record, I’ve worked with and for some really wonderful bosses, too – who understood that the work is best when people are positively motivated, happy, and can grow daily in competence and confidence.

What should you do if you’re in a tough spot? First, learn all you can from the situation. Keep your head held high and do your best to contribute and grow without sacrificing your dignity or doing damage to your soul.

But remember also that life is too short to work for a card-carrying jerk. Never let your fear of finding another job, even in these times, imperil your sanity or your health. You are not an indentured servant.

So what does a good boss do? Get some ideas by reading Style Matters: How to Behave When You’re The Boss on our website.

June 10, 2009

Rainy Day Ideas


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It’s raining as I write this, and it reminded me of what a drag it can be for kids stuck inside on a dreary, damp day. It’s depressing.

But when I was growing up and it rained, my Mom encouraged me to do something different, something to help eliminate the blanket of lethargy and apathy which often accompany drizzly days.

You can use a similar ploy at your agency.

Use wet sloppy days to solve nettlesome problems, break out of ruts, and get ideas flowing. Stick with me – this may sound hokey but I guarantee something productive will come from it.

Come up with a list of rainy-day projects. Some suggestions:

  • Task groups or individuals to generate a minimum of 10 ideas to increase the value of their work for clients without increasing cost or unbillable hours
  • Offer a small gift, maybe some sort of traveling trophy, for the largest number of computer files dumped or most kilobytes liberated by day’s end
  • Hold a contest – each department comes up with ideas to improve its efficiency and communication with another department
  • Then there’s the old standby: develop money-saving, productivity-increasing ideas, e.g. how can we develop low cost training programs?
  • Plan something different for this year’s Christmas party (always fun to do in the summer)
  • Start a book club – read business books and report on them to the staff with a focus on discovering improvements you can implement

Put a time limit on these “rainy day” challenges so other routine projects get done. At the end of the day have a beer-and-chips session to regroup and present any “awards.”

Here’s the point: it’s all about ideas. It’s invigorating to break out of routines on an otherwise dreary day and come up with a bunch of smart solutions. A little bit of fun like this will actually lubricate your brain so it’s easier to solve other problems. Try it.

By the way, a rainy day is a great opportunity for the boss to surprise everyone and order in lunch, too…

Your 2 cents

These were just a few thoughts that came to mind as a steady rain continues to fall outside. So what do you think? Got any suggestions to share with others reading this? Please comment below.

June 4, 2009

Dissolving a Partnership


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partnership Imagine meeting three ad agency partners for the first time in a nice private dining room to get acquainted before facilitating a strategic planning session the next morning. As the evening goes on things get so tense that one of them screams, throws the bread basket in another’s face, and storms out not to be seen again that night.


When we’re brought in to diagnose why an agency is stuck in neutral, the first thing we check is how healthy the executive team is. Or not. A single meeting is usually all it takes to see if the family is dysfunctional. And if it is, the whole agency culture is usually infected.

The problem children always stand out: they’re the excuse-makers, the naysayers (“We tried that before and it didn’t work”), they throw boulders in the path of progress. No matter what, they’re blameless when something goes wrong. . . or so they’d have you believe.

What to do?

First, remember that this is a business, not a counseling or rehab center. So put your emotions aside. If the senior team has an ineffective, overly-entitled member who effectively deselects him or herself from contributing to the agency’s success, don’t allow one person to hold the whole place hostage.

I’ve seen entire agencies scuttled by just one soured individual. Don’t let it happen at your place.

And don’t make excuses for not taking action.

Cost too much to buy them out? There’s always a way to set up a payoff over time; believe me, it will be cheaper in the long run. Been with you 20 years or more? So what. If they no longer contribute commensurate with their salary, it’s time to go. Seniority, after all, is about the past, not the future.

Too painful? OK, so you go through a rough patch working out the details of departure – isn’t that better than waking up every day with the problem over your head and seeing the agency falter for the next 5 -10 years?

Then there’s the “It will hurt them too much” excuse. Of course it will. But if they’ve risen near the top of your agency then they’re talented, capable, and smart. . . and they’ll find something else, no doubt a lot more satisfying. A new environment or challenge will be best for both them and your agency in the long run – how many times have you seen that happen when others left?

Easily 75% of our consulting work is bringing focus to dysfunctional agency leadership teams. Occasionally that means facing the music and making the changes that, believe me, everybody – staff, vendors, and even your clients – know are necessary.

By the way, the story at the top is true and had a good outcome. The food-fighter eventually left and went on to thrive in his own business. The other partners reconstituted and the agency continues to prosper.

You can write a happy ending, too.

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.”

May 19, 2009

Rock ‘n Roll & Advertising

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guitars-rock-and-roll-museum-6Went to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame yesterday in Cleveland. God, it was great; almost too much to take without requesting supplemental oxygen as the memories flooded in from my death-defying youth. . . or what I remember of it anyway (!).

There are so many impressions to share, but one that bubbled to the top was how similar rock ‘n roll is to advertising.

Well, sort of.

The Hall’s multi-media experiences and displays make it clear that a rock band’s success was highly dependent on how outrageous they were, how many taboos they shattered, how uncomfortable they made the establishment, and of course produced words and music that spoke to the very soul of their audiences. The costumes, make-up, stage design, coarse words, driving beats, stunts. . . all are highly expressive forms of communication. And, highly effective, too – making their mark on their target audiences that has lasted generations.

Isn’t advertising supposed to be like that? Powering a message at a specific audience, stopping them dead in their tracks to feel something, and maybe even do something. When you experience good rock music, at the least you want to get up and move and dance. Now how powerful is that? Just imagine if advertising could be that evocative. . .

But alas, as we all know, it rarely is because the really good stuff – the uncomfortable, over-the-top edgy stuff – gets shot down before it leaves the agency, and sometimes even before it gets out of Creative. “The suits upstairs won’t go for it.” “The client will never buy it.” “It’ll never get past Legal.”

I confess: I’ve killed a lot of unborn children in my time. I, and other folks like me who’ve made a career in advertising, told Elton John to forget the goofy glasses and outfits and just play the damn piano like the classical pianist he was trained to be. We instructed David Bowie to look like a man instead of wearing a dress and wig. Janice, don’t scream like that; it offends people. Hey, ZZ Top – shave, will ya?!

Today I stand with the Pro-Lifers. Don’t kill the fetus before it even breathes! Let the ideas, crazy and bold and raw as they may be live, for Crissakes.

If advertising is going to survive as a “collective” experience, i.e. where we all get the same message and react pretty much the same way (as people do at a rock concert) then we can’t be afraid of any idea no matter how scary or whom it might piss off. OK, sure, it’s got to mean something. But please can we drop  the politically correct crap and get on with the business of effective communication?

And if I see another damn flyspeck legal disclaimer at the end of a TV spot I’m going to throw something at it.

Your 2 Cents

Agree, disagree? Are all the good ads stillborn because they might offend somebody?

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