The new rules
This is not meant to be some pep talk. In times like these, the temptation is to try to provide inspiration. I believe nobody can claim to have any or all of the answers for anything right now. That’s quite a mouthful for someone that does not believe in absolutes.
What has happened around the world in the past month or so is only unbelievable if you believed in the infallibility of mankind. So let’s begin with the acknowledgment that nobody is an “expert” at anything. Let’s start anew in humility.
Smugness will surely backfire. The last four disasters to inflict pain upon the advertising industry brought with them a degree of smug: “I choose not to participate in the recession” crap. This is different. This is life or death.
This is the time for leaders to lead. If your agency hangs its hat on collaboration — you’re already irrelevant. If you have not led your clients by now, it’s probably too late. But if you have, it’s time to take your fate completely into your own hands. It’s time to stop waiting on referrals. It’s time to stop chasing RFP’s. It’s time to get proactive. Today.
These times require a new approach; not just to new business, but to your business. Here are some thoughts that might work for you, especially if you are a small-to-midsized, regional, creative agency — the salt of the agency earth. This new approach is based upon NOT being an “advertising agency” but instead, a business consultancy that can execute with creativity.
- Vocation-based outreach — Now is not the time to sell your agency’s benefits to prospects or clients. No, it’s the time to rescue businesses through your knowledge and expertise. Think of yourself as a “business doctor” — be a consultant and not an ad person. I remember in 2001 when the twin towers went down; the airline industry grounded to a halt. So, the great Paul Cappelli took an idea to Jet Blue. He gave it to them for free. It helped that fledgling airline in its infancy literally survive. And when the economy recovered, guess what? Jet Blue hired Cappelli’s tiny Ad Store as AOR. The lesson? Make your agency crisis-relevant. All brands and industries are facing unprecedented challenges in the near term. It’s time to truly be a giant slayer now. Do it through ideas. When you call a prospect and they say, “But, we already have an agency” be prepared to reply, “That’s ok, you can still have our idea. We’d like to execute it, but whatever is best for you.” Be the hired gun they don’t have. The big agencies cannot move and think like this. You can
- Location-based meetings — Charity begins at home. Pick 20-30 regional businesses within 180 miles that you KNOW you can help with an idea. Now is not the time to fight for agency compensation or put a stake in the ground around your principles. It is time to do good for your business community by way of your talents and skills. It’s time for you to do the right thing.
- Personal prospecting — Think through how your current clients and prospects can be relevant now and in the very near future. What can they do to lead? Write each prospect a personal email; no more Campaign Monitor or MailChimp-type generic mass emails bragging about how great your agency is. Instead, write them a personal email and TELL THEM YOU HAVE AN IDEA FOR THEIR BUSINESS. Ask if you can set up a 15-minute call (no in-person meetings) to present your idea. Ask them if they would prefer Skype, but all you really want to do is talk to them.
- Back off the Data for now — Not any data nor any precedent exists for global pandemics; unless you were around in 1918. If you choose to sell your data chops now, it has to be real-time beta testing. But, selling data in might weaken the strength of your proposed idea. Do not confuse being humble with squishiness. You may have to use your instincts now. Some of you relish that challenge.
- Present versatile ideas — Just because your prospecting is personal, your idea can be broad, industry-specific and category-wide. Study and learn from every brand’s corporate tweets. That’s where their communication priorities lie. I suspect those tweets may be fairly consistent across the category.
- Present uncomplicated ideas Make sure your ideas are easily executable and operationally simple. The client or prospect should be able to respond, “we can do that right now.” A lot of production shoots are being delayed, so if you’ e invested in an on-site content studio, you have an advantage.
- Back off the CMO — Maybe we should work from the bottom up. Those young and flexible Brand managers and Associate Marketers might be able to push your idea upwards and to the top. They love being heroes. And they are trying to save their jobs. Give them the ammo
- Be empathetic — This is more important than ever. Empathy can’t be explained. You just have to be it.
So, what happens when you get this call “meeting” confirmed?
- Stick to the 15 minute timeframe.
- Abandon credentials, case studies and creative samples. Nobody wants to be pitched with your agency deck right now.
- Stick with one simple but big business idea for them.
The New Meeting:
- This is who you are and what your brand means. This is why you exist. Tell them why their brand is important.
- This is why we want to help you.
- These are your particular challenges right now.
- This is our idea for you.
- Be prepared to discuss an executional plan if they ask you “how do we do this?” Be prepared to outline the next steps.
- Remind them that they have a duty and responsibility to communicate with their customers and the world.
If the meeting is on Skype:
- Dress professionally. Look like a consultant.
- Rehearse your call.
- Have IT in the room in case there’s a glitch. There’s no time to joke around about your technological shortcomings.
- Be precise and surgical, you are a business doctor.
- No time to joke around. Build the relationship through your ideas.
Finally, help your fellow agencies if you can. Be part of something bigger than your own little office. Be part of a noble industry. We can change the perception of our industry through this crisis. Look at this as an opportunity. Tap into your Association — the 4A’s. They exist to help you. Be a part of a “task force” to help guide your fellow agencies through the rest of 2020. We are all in this together.