Agencies: To Improve Your Business, Get Rid of Time Sheets

How a 'Brand Village' Approach Can Help Win New Clients and Build Trust

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Adapt or die is a business strategy all organizations today should embrace. So why is the marketing sector struggling so much to find new ways to work?

You know there's a problem when you see that some $25 billion in media spending is under review. And that's just the tip of the melting marketing glacier. Now we have task forces being formed to investigate media practices; client and agency relationships are at an all-time low; agency-of-record assignments are going the way of the dodo; and project work is undermining the long-term health of brands. So what's an agency to do?

If you're large, how can you possibly be nimble enough to change course? And if you're small, how can you compete when the big guys are cutting fees just to stay in the game? Oh, and let's not forget that the best and brightest talent is being lured away by Google, Facebook and even marketers who are upping starting salaries to stratospheric levels.

For starters, I suggest it's time to get rid of time sheets. We did, and we had our most profitable year ever.

We're not lawyers or accountants. We are creative people. We need to assert the principles of partnership. To do away with time sheets means we have to radically change our traditional agency philosophy of work to revolutionize, improve and invigorate the way business is done today. Not just on the agency side, but on the client side as well. When everyone is sitting together at the same table, working through briefs, ideas and challenges without the pressure of having great ideas in an artificially prescribed set of hours, you build trust. You build a relationship.

The real challenge here is embracing change. It's getting a left-brain CFO to think like a right-brain creative and contemplate the "what if." What if there were no time sheets? How would that work? How would we account for staff time? How would we charge?

When we were pitching a big national retail account, we knew we could not be competitive on costs with other specialized retail agencies if we were going to charge by time and hourly rates. But we also knew we had the right people in place to take on the brand's challenges. Our solution was to give this client a dedicated team. Everything from traffic to creative to strategy all together in one group -- what we call a "brand village." The cost of this solution was the actual people costs -- salary, benefits, plus a profit for the agency.

Our village approach not only won us the account, but it changed our agency. We found that when you start to put cultural change in place, it can prepare you to be more adventurous. It can get you to ask more "what ifs." And it gave us permission to do away with time sheets.

When your teams don't have what our CFO calls the "time-sheet Nazis" looking over their shoulders, they are more focused on the work and in many cases more efficient -- not less. They literally roll up their sleeves. And they look at success in different terms. It's no longer about finishing the campaign before the time-sheet clock runs out, but about truly solving the business problem in elegant ways, while also looking at how that solution is working post-launch, and how successful it is in terms of client success.

No time sheets has also made us more entrepreneurial. We recently created a village that just works on projects. While these might one day turn into AOR assignments, our structure enables us to take on work that we might not have considered in the past.

It has also given us the ability to say "no." We've had several meetings with potential clients who were not willing to be part of our village approach and embrace a new process of client and agency teams working together. And we've walked away. It has become a good filter to test if the chemistry is going to work -- because we've found that the ones you say "no" to are usually not the kinds of clients who play well with others, and thus are not as productive in our no time sheet/brand village environment.

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