My Small Agency, 3,000 Miles Wide: Managing a Remote Office

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I'm tapping out this blog with my knees too close to my chest (didn't get my #*!@ upgrade), and laptop crunched between the seat in front of me (which I pray won't suddenly recline)
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and my waist. I successfully jammed my toiletries into a quart-size bag to get safely through security. (Love the TSA bureaucratic insanity. But I must admit, those quart-sized bags must be good for Glad and Hefty brands!) Currently 33,000 feet high, on my way to our west coast office in Seattle.

While we all have to cope with the hassles of travel today, I mention it only because it is just one of many issues that have to be dealt with when running a satellite office of a small marketing agency. Besides frequent travel, there's hiring smart people, whom you trust. Whether your remote office is just a couple of states away or across the country in my case, fact is, you're not there to walk the halls every day, make sure your team is working as diligently as your home office, or solve an array of problems that crop up on any given day. In the nearly-seven years since we've opened the office, we've had a few managing directors. I made sure each one embraced our agency's values, one of which is integrity. As a result, I don't lay awake at night, worrying that my out-of-town staff is coming in late, leaving early and serving our clients in ways that would tarnish our agency's brand. Hire the right leaders, and they will make you proud.

HR is another important management issue. Just as agencies work to ensure clients speak with one voice, it's equally critical that your agency delivers a consistent workplace experience. If you want to recruit good people, be sure to standardize your human resource practices among your offices. Hire and fire the same way. Enforce agency values every day. Orient staff the same way. Provide similar training programs. Publish one holiday schedule. Conduct performance evaluations at the same time. Provide benefits that are comparable. And monitor AAAA-published data to provide compensation that market-adjusts to your company's pay scales.

Communication is critical, too. I speak with my managing director of Brownstein Group/Seattle on a regular basis. We have weekly scheduled calls, spontaneous conversations, frequent email exchanges and I visit often. This not only takes place between the two office leaders, but multiply our 1:1 communication across dozens of our staffers daily, and it's easy to see how we speak with one agency voice, and stay connected. They fly here for meetings, company outings, and holiday parties. And we fly there to present in person to clients, collaborate with our west coast colleagues, and pitch business.

Which brings me to new business. It's been our experience that the home office has to help drive lead generation. While our out-of-town colleagues do their best to bring in new business, they are primarily focused on serving our clients. Combine that with the fact that the new business infrastructure is based at the home office, and it becomes obvious that we need to pitch in to get invited to pitches. New offices are also at a disadvantage compared to the home office, in terms of brand awareness. In our case, we had a 36-year head start when we opened the Seattle office, so it takes time for our other office to get known in its market and bring in leads. I recommend a couple of no-brainer tactics: get involved in the local ad club; publicize your successes; reach out in the community by joining boards, and doing some pro bono work; and enter local creative award shows. If you make the commitment, you can bring in the business anywhere you hang your shingle.

I know this may not apply to some of you. But one day it might. And for those of you who do have an office in more than one market, I hope my experiences make yours more successful. And if you can drive there, consider yourself fortunate.
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