I'm not very good at predictions. And my bucket list would be inappropriate for this blog. So let me kick off the year by sharing my to-do list for 2012. Right or wrong, smart or dumb, these are some of the actions and strategies that I believe will make us a stronger agency.
1. Ignore industry reports on advertising spending. The world doesn't turn on whether ad spending is up or down 2%. Clients come to us with distinct problems, and industry trends seldom determine what's best for them. If we can focus more on our clients' challenges and less on advertising trends, we'll be a smarter agency.
2. Cultivate more partnerships outside of our expertise, including gaming, search, mobile and content curation. This requires admitting that we're not brilliant at everything. It also forces us to get good at bringing new capabilities into the agency. It's all about giving every possible advantage to our clients, wherever that knowledge comes from.
3. Commit the agency to a mastery of the Facebook ecosystem as both an advertising and social platform. Debates about the direction and relevance of Facebook will continue to rage, but as a medium, it has become as important to marketers as the Internet, or mobile.
4. Keep getting better at helping our clients with customer acquisition and relationship management, including understanding the rapidly developing marketing-automation technologies. Agencies can no longer limit their sphere of influence to brand awareness. We need to also seamlessly link the brand with the sales process.
5. Expand our definition of social media so that it's fully integrated with our mobile strategies, in fact with all of our strategies. I would add e-mail to this point. Every technological shift seems to redefine the value of e-mail as a marketing channel. Today we need to optimize e-mail for mobile and understand its increased value as a social tool for sharing content.
6. Avoid the cattle calls, also known as agency reviews, and take our game to the companies that we passionately believe we can help succeed. In a time of intense competition for new clients, the costs for entering major account reviews are high, the odds are bad and the outcomes are uncertain. Our plan is to identify the clients we want before they even know they need a new agency.
7. Train, train, train. We've always been a sink-or-swim organization, and that may not be the best approach when top talent is scarce and expensive. We plan to get better at developing our own talent. That includes taking a fresh look at all the bright young college graduates struggling to find jobs.
8. Make one big bet on the market. An investment banker recently told me that now is a rotten time to sell an agency. If I remember Econ 101, that must mean it's a good time to buy. We're going to explore and see if we can find an interesting strategic and cultural fit.
9. Look at every client as a new prospect. It's an old lesson but one that 's easily forgotten. With the start of each year, we should imagine that every client is brand-new and set out to prove ourselves with the best thinking and the most creative work possible.
10. On a personal note, I'd like to re-examine what it means to be the leader of an agency. Sometimes it feels as if I'm just having too much fun and I lose track of the job description. To that end, I plan to spend more time learning from other agency leaders that I admire.
I've got no idea whether it will be a banner year or a scrappy game of survival, but I'm betting that we'll be in good shape either way if I can check off all the items on this list.