Why Agency Reputation Matters

Three Things the Best Agencies Have Going for Them

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If you're an agency still putzing around with the very idea of PR for your agency brand; if you still think an overworked AE can handle the agency's "publicity;" if you pride yourself on never having tweeted a tweet or think it's not your job to worry about social media, then I'm here to take you out of your comfort zone. Because agency reputation matters.

Recently, McKinney's Chief Creative Officer Jonathan Cude told me, "Only two things matter: The work and the people who do it. It's that simple and it's that hard." He and I know that an agency's work and the people who do it are the very definition of reputation. How we care for it, protect it, nurture it and share it with our stakeholder audiences is what makes each agency brand different from one another and uniquely valuable to client partners.

Nationwide's CMO Matt Jauchius said as much when he told the audience at the Ad Age CMO Summit, "Stop treating your agency like a vendor." John Hayes of American Express said this at last year's 4A's Transformation Conference: "I love it when one of my valued agency partners tells me I'm wrong." And Allstate's Lisa Cochrane gets downright teary when she talks about her relationship with Burnett. I'll never forget her running off the ANA stage like a blushing bride on the arm of Mayhem (the character played by Dean Winters in Allstate's ad campaign).

The more influencers who know your brand and value the work you do, the better your chances of retaining top clients, attracting hot talent and ultimately keeping your agency a happy, thriving place. These influencers are the decision-makers in our biz, the folks who help agencies grow:

  • New-business consultants, because they can select you.
  • Headhunters, because they can refer hot talent to you.
  • Marketers, because they can entrust you with their brands.
  • Trade associations, because they can tap you to speak at their conferences.
  • The press, because that third-party endorsement speaks volumes.
  • Employees, because they can be your most powerful evangelists.
  • Consumers, because if your work translates into social currency for them, you're golden.

If we all made a list of the "best agencies," we'd agree on quite a few. Why? Because they made it happen. Your agency's reputation can be strong only if you treat it with the same care and attention as you do a client's. It should be your top priority.

Agencies known as the best have three things going for them:

Media relations with a capital R

I know we live in a social world. But don't think for a minute that pitching stories, securing speaking gigs, building relationships and being visible in the industry aren't important.

Too often I hear people say that we're talking to ourselves in the ad trades, that marketers don't read them. Not so fast. In addition to their print and digital editions, almost all of these publications are now in the events business as well. The best agencies pitch stories and conference speakers, who not only get coverage but also rub elbows with marketers and prospects in attendance.

Don't think you don't have time for the trades. Instead, make sure they have time for you.

Creatively inspired, agency-branded social properties

Agencies definitely need the press, but we should also be lighting our own firecrackers. If you're treating your social platforms like the old days of 360-degree integration where you're checking a box (we've got Facebook, check; we've got Twitter, check; and we've got a slew of interns in charge of them, check), most likely your content and your dwindling followers reflect it. If your sites are nothing more than recycled journalism and bullhorns for how great you are, if there's nothing useful that your audiences can take away, you're better off not having them at all.

The best agencies have built and are managing hungry social platforms. How? They are treating their channels like they would a client's. It may mean building a team with folks already on staff: a writer, planner, content marketer, ACD, coordinator and analyst. It may mean a small budget. If done right, it will be worth it. Why shouldn't an agency flex its creative muscle with a fun, provocative, can't-be-ignored social effort on behalf its own brand?

Chief reputation officer at the helm

Every great agency has a valued, best-of-the-best communications leader who lives every day to share the good news about the agency's work and POV. They take the hard phone calls, counsel the CEO on how that interview might have gone better, handle the angry tweet or assess if a story was awesome, neutral or, gulp, damaging. Whether full-time or part-time, they have the authority, the emotional intelligence and skill set to share your brand with your most important audiences. And they report directly to the CEO.

If you don't already have one, why not? Who is responsible for nurturing, protecting and building your agency's reputation?

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