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Four Small Agency Bloggers Walk Into a Post

Contributors Talk About Future Directions

By Published on . 10

A handful of friendships have emerged out of the Small Agency Diary. Marc Brownstein, Bart Cleveland, Phil Johnson and Tom Martin routinely correspond, offer advice and, in general, harass each other. They have decided to go public with some of their ongoing conversation. Below they each take on a question they have been discussing amongst themselves:

What's the big change you want to make at your agency in 2011?

Marc Brownstein
A peek under the hood at Brownstein Group in December: wrapping up projects; fine-tuning 2011 planning; cranking out last-minute projects for clients with use-it-or-lose-it budgets; and start-up meetings for new clients ready to hit the new year with fresh marketing cover.

Those are the usual occurrences at our shop this time of year. Rarely changes. What IS going to change, however, is the role I am planning for myself beginning in January.

I currently spend about 50% of my time in the office, doing all of the things an agency head does. In 2011, I am committing to get out of the agency about 75% of the time. I plan to get closer to my clients to see where it hurts, and how I can help them even more. I plan to speak at, and attend, more conferences and seminars to connect with thought leaders, stay ahead of trends, and absorb new learnings. Finally, I plan to spend more time unlocking solutions for the organizations on whose boards I sit.

My staff may miss me (then again, a weekly rager may break out), but I know that by getting out of the office, I can bring better solutions to my clients; more relevant ideas to our agency; and make a bigger impact for the organizations in our community.

If I'm successful, I'll also need to get 75% more sleep next year!

Bart Cleveland
At a recent agency gathering, each employee was asked to define his or her past year at the agency based on one word. Mine was "pivotal." After years of investing in a deep enhancement of capability, we offer true integrated marketing. I say true because everyone is talking the game, but few can deliver. For our efforts, the fruit appeared on the tree this year. We landed four new accounts during the latter half of the year, including a Fortune 100 company.

So the significant change I would want to make in my agency in 2011 is a simple one: refinement. Through constant evaluation and adjustment, my expectation is that we over-deliver to our clients. We dazzle and delight them with problem solving that can transform their businesses. For me, the current climate of our industry has never been more advantageous for agencies that use innovation and creativity to help clients achieve their goals. I plan for my agency to make the most of that opportunity.

Phil Johnson
Every year demands at least one big change. We've got a couple of initiatives bubbling to the surface, and I'm trying to pick the right ones.

One change that I want to make is to turn our agency pitch inside out. Let me explain. It bothers me that during the course of a year only a small number of people get to sit down with our people, hear some of our stories in depth, and experience first hand the way we develop insights and collaborate with each other. You don't see us in action unless you're either a client, or you've invited us into a pitch. I want to blow open that experience for a lot more people.

I hope to take all the attributes that we share in a pitch and make them accessible to a broader audience. I'm looking for ways to break down our agency walls, create more transparency into how we think and work, empower our staff to be more public, and find ways to share our thinking and processes in 3D with anyone who might be interested.

I believe this would help transmit our best thinking throughout the agency and raise everybody's game a notch.

Tom Martin
In 2010 just under 10% of Converse Digital's income came via "knowledge sales." We consider a knowledge sale to be fees from public speaking, fees for private workshops we do for clients, prospective clients and general audience workshops. We also include fees from licensing our intellectual property (ideas) to brands and agencies that will execute those ideas under knowledge sales.

I'm a huge fan of knowledge sales because the income isn't tied to hours worked. Much like the software industry, the variable cost to produce a workshop or give a talk at a conference is nothing compared to the income one can generate for those activities. All of the cost is captured the first time you write a workshop or prepare a talk. After that first time, it's mostly just profit. And IP sales are even better because we might (and often do) create a powerful idea for a communications platform or marketing campaign in mere hours. But that doesn't stop us from selling it for a price that would equal 100's of hours if not more.

So for 2011, the single biggest change I'm hoping to create is to increase our knowledge sales to at least 30% of our income with an eye towards growing that to 50% in 2012 or earlier.

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