Your Ad Agency Should Be More Like an Ant

An Old Parable -- and Clear Communication -- Go a Long Way

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Bart Cleveland Bart Cleveland
We're getting toward the end of the first quarter of '09 and people are still hanging on by their fingernails. I receive e-mails weekly from people I know who are now on the street, victims of the current economy's continuing slide. I don't remember the industry feeling the negative effects of a downturn as severely as the current one. It's discouraging even to those who still have jobs and, in some cases, are busier than ever.

Our staff seems to be relatively calm about the economic turmoil. This is probably due to our workload remaining active and our new-business efforts bearing fruit. However, the economy has had a negative effect on our agency. Some of our clients have trimmed budgets. Some prospects have said it will be next year before they begin spending. Regardless, we're very excited about this year. It could be our best year ever.

The reason for our optimism is simple: We have been working for the bad times. Like the ants in the parable, we worked in the summer for the long winter ahead. We have a very efficient process, a well-trained staff and a marketing plan that is an investment priority. These efforts minimize the negative effects of a bad economy.

When you have good news in bad times, it's easy for employees to remain optimistic. Even the best efforts don't always bear fruit, however. Sometimes bad things happen to good agencies. A lost client or two can have even the most stable agency reeling. The action agency leadership takes is what will determine how you weather the storm. The leadership of the agency must make communication to its staff a priority.

Ask for help. If something bad happens, tell your employees how they can help and ask them to do so. Don't try to sweep bad news under the rug. Talk about it.

Don't put off tough jobs. Lost revenue needs to be addressed if an agency is to remain profitable. Don't wait and see what happens too long. Operate at the size you should be, not the size you want to be. A layoff can be traumatic, but your staff will respond to appropriate action being taken. Those that are let go will land on their feet. Agencies are businesses, no matter how much they feel like a family.

If an agency's leadership has been doing its job, there will be occasional good news. Even if new business is slow coming in, frequent updates of new business activity can keep employees motivated. If the workload is slower, assign slow workers with tasks that will improve the agency's product or assist in increasing business. Don't let anyone become idle.

Applaud accomplishments. Recognition is a key ingredient of loyalty. You may not be able to give raises or bonuses, but you can do little things that bolster extra effort and keep a good employee from giving into the temptation of changing jobs. Get your staff together frequently and pat them on the back. Make sure it is genuine and for real effort, not just for showing up. This will give everyone a good example to follow.

Look ahead. If you have been working for tougher times, they don't seem as bad when they show up. If you haven't, get busy making up lost ground. Don't fall into a negative frame of mind. Stay positive and active. Your employees will follow your lead and have your agency ahead of the pack when the economy returns to normal.

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