A Stimulus Plan for the Agency Business

Five Ways We Can Reinvigorate Our Shops

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Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
When Obama's stimulus plan was announced, I had two initial thoughts: I hope his plan to pump money into infrastructure, schools and research pays off quickly. Second, where are the stimulus dollars for the agency business? And will the Obama money ever trickle down to benefit the advertising/PR business?

So far, I don't see much of that coming our way. Especially to smaller shops. But we can't exactly wait, either. So I've prepared my own stimulus plan for our industry. Here's what I believe we should do to grow our businesses in the next couple of years.

Differentiate Thyself. Yep, in the fury to keep your clients and acquire new ones, you could easily forget about the big picture for your agency -- namely, positioning your shop in a unique manner. Why is it that we can do that for clients every day with such ease and effectiveness, yet when it comes to our own shops, it gets back-burnered? One reason is that client work comes first. The other is that it is really hard to look at your agency in the mirror and carve out a distinctive niche. But it is certainly something you must do. If you can't seem to brand yourself, then hire someone like Tim Williams, who does this for a living. Brownstein Group brought him in a couple of years ago, and we are a better shop as a result.

Upgrade Your Team. I cannot remember another time in this industry when so many talented people were out of work. There are more now than even after the dot-com bubble popped. What better time to upgrade your bench and make your shop an even stronger resource for clients?

Get Smart. Now is the time to hone your skills that are most relevant to the marketplace. If, for example, your shop is thin on social-media marketing, then take the time to improve by attending digital conferences, talking to other experts in the industry who've done this successfully, and just a little old-fashioned trial and error. The thing about getting your feet wet with something like social media is that you can start with a small project for a pro bono client before total immersion. So that when a large paying client comes along, you're ready.

Hunt Farther. If your agency has stayed pretty much close to home for most of your clients, now is a good time to expand your footprint. We have a number of clients around the country, and every time we pitch outside of our primary markets (Philly and Seattle), a funny thing happens -- we are put on a pedestal by clients who perceive the out-of-market agency as a fresh, exciting new organization that they want to do business with. This compares with agencies in their own market that are sometimes taken for granted. So reaching farther for clients can help you land a few big clients with less effort.

Re-connect With Precision. This is a back-to-basics tactic. As an agency leader, you need to get off the boards that are not meaningful to you anymore in terms of mission and access to the right leaders. And get on the right boards of non-profits, and companies that have more relevance, and can connect you to key decision makers who can hand you business. Sometimes we stay too long on boards and need to get off so new blood can come on, and that frees us to give our talents and energies elsewhere. In addition, you should connect with some of the business leadership groups that focus on networking, such as Vistage. They exist in every market, and all you have to do is Google "business networking organizations, your city" and you'll find no shortage of groups where you can connect, learn and develop new business for your agency.

Well, Obama has his stimulus plan for America. And I have my plan for just ad/PR agencies. Let's hope they both work!

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