If there’s one constant in the agency landscape, it’s that everything changes—and although understanding, predicting and preparing for that change is incredibly hard, it is possible. At DAC, we have been able to successfully transform ourselves twice during the last decade—first from an analog agency to a search agency with local tech, then to a full-service performance agency—by adhering to three key principles.
1. Know that change starts at the top
Without clear and consistent commitment to change from the senior team, it is not possible to pivot. We have seen brands and agencies bring in talent to help drive their transformation, only to see those efforts fail when they were not given the appropriate support from the most senior members of the team.
At DAC, the alignment of the senior team around the shared goal of transformation has been one of my most important responsibilities. This has meant ensuring the path forward had enough breadth to encompass the various ideas of what it takes to proceed—because there is always more than one route to take. It has also meant making hard decisions. But without this alignment, we would not have succeeded.
2. Understand who you are and who you are built for
Our team had to align with a common vision or purpose, an understanding of who we are and who we are built for. DAC’s vision has been consistent for almost 50 years. We are built for national and international brands that need to connect with audiences at the hyperlocal level. We drive transformational growth by combining best-in-class digital media expertise with deep knowledge of our clients’ businesses to strategically engage customers, accounting for who they are and—uniquely—where they are.
This clarity of purpose allowed us to forge partnerships that not only accelerated our transformation into a fully digital agency, but also enabled our client-partners—including State Farm, Bridgestone and Sylvan Learning—to pivot hard into digital, consistently driving performance to previously unimaginable levels. Recognizing that we are built for brands with distributed local footprints drove us to innovate in technologies, systems, platforms and methodologies that are specifically designed for these types of organizations.
3. Talent retention and growth is leadership’s most important job
Having the right people is critically important. What is less obvious is how the right talent will help you continue to move in the right direction. Our first reinvention—from analog to digital—was hard, but although formats changed, the value we delivered did not. We focused our efforts on offering the digital equivalent of what we had previously executed in analog, namely leads, largely driven through search, whether paid, organic or in the maps channel (a particular specialty).
However, we rapidly came to the conclusion that what got us here wasn’t going to keep us here. To compete as an independent digital agency in a world of holding companies and consultancies, we had to complete our offering. We built on the core team, investing in their personal and professional growth. We put in place rigorous talent-acquisition practices, with a particular focus on proven analytical skills. We looked to our teams to drive innovation and extend our capabilities into e-commerce and creative spaces. We fostered a scrappy culture (Independent agencies need people who know nothing will be handed to them!) centered around our “Geeks With Personality.”
But while we did this, we remained consistent with our core values and our focus on who we work for. We are still built for national and international brands with distributed local footprints, but now we have evolved into a full-service digital agency that offers strategy, performance media, technology and data analytics. We combine these disciplines to help our clients build exceptional experiences through the entire customer life cycle.
By adhering to these principles—and as a result of the transformational effect we have had on our clients—we have doubled to more than 400 team members and grown to 14 offices across North America and Europe during the last decade. We have achieved this while remaining fiercely independent and evolving through adherence to our core principles. It is these very principles that excite us for our next pivot.