Leadership Isn't a Commodity

It's Your Ticket to Survival

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Tom Martin Tom Martin
There is one resource that advertisers will always pay a premium for regardless of the economy -- guidance. Preferably the kind that leads to increased sales or a reduction in expenses resulting in increased profit.

There is a lot of talk in the media today, in offices around the world, and even on this blog -- offering guidance and thoughts for surviving the current downturn. And while some of those ideas are more likely than others to help an agency successfully survive, in my humble opinion, one stands out.

Just be smarter than your clients in your area of expertise -- persuading consumers to do things, buy things or feel a certain way. That is, after all, theoretically why they hired you in the first place isn't it? To ensure you live to see another day, mandate to your organization that everyone from the most senior to the most junior staffer must be seen as a resource that your clients can look to for guidance on the key marketing communications issues the client is grappling with daily.

Case in point: I was recently talking with an old friend who is working on the client side at a Fortune 500 company. She was commenting on the current state of fear that clients are working under, how they are desperately searching for competitive advantages in any shape or form to either grow or protect market share. In her words, "I've never seen clients so scared. They're grasping at anything that looks like a superiority claim and building ads to scream it to the world."

She went on to explain how her agency wasn't any real help because most of the account folks were "junior" and the lone account director was stretched so thin that he/she was of only minimal help. And while she felt that her account team was more than capable of taking direction and executing the various media campaigns required, they didn't know how to write a good creative brief much less solve the thorny marketing solutions she and her fellow clients found themselves grappling with daily.

And therein lies the opportunity. The solution to ensuring your agency's future isn't rocket science, it's called leadership. When in times of crisis, human nature is to seek out those who seem to have the answers or at least seem most likely to find the right answers. It's a basic social organizing principal that plays out in our society every day. We call these folks "leaders" and the true ones simply emerge from the pack and, through demonstration of superior strength, guidance or whatever key skill set is most valuable at that time, assume the leadership mantel while the rest happily follow.

Agencies today need to stop being afraid of leadership and step into the vacuum that seemingly exists. Here are a couple of places to start.

Provide new solutions to your clients' old problems. You know which ones they are. The ones that have been around as long as you have but, for whatever reason, no one will step up and own them long enough to solve them.

Immerse yourself in new technology and counsel your clients in how to leverage that technology for their advantage. Social media is an excellent example. It's so big and daunting that many clients know they should probably be there but have no idea how to begin. Take the opportunity and show them. Trust me, they'll appreciate the help.

And lastly, respond vs. react to the events of the day. Biology shows that stress and fear causes the human brain to quickly focus on the most obvious solution vs. the best one. Given the complexity that is marketing, this approach seldom reveals the best answer, just the most obvious one. Do your clients a favor and be that voice of reason that suggests alternative viewpoints, ideas and solutions for consideration. Don't fear looking argumentative or difficult. In the moment they may find you a pain in the @ss, but after a bit of reflection, the good ones will welcome and thank you for not losing sight of the finish line.

In conclusion, if you don't have people capable of leading then develop them or go find them. They're pretty easy to spot. They're the ones everyone is listening too.
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