For What It's Worth -- One Agency's Plan for 2009

To Emerge Victorious, We'll Continue to Adapt

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Phil Johnson Phil Johnson
No predictions for me. I couldn't have guessed in a million years what 2008 would bring, although I'll be forever grateful that my meager savings didn't end up in Bernie Madoff's hands. No advice from me either. Anyone who reads this blog regularly has gotten some excellent strategies for staying strong in a tough market from Bart Cleveland, Tom Martin and Marc Brownstein. We'd all do well to listen to those guys. As for pure attitude, I recommend reading Peter Madden whenever he posts. He's like a hockey player with a pen. Instead, let me offer up what's on my agenda for the next year. If nothing else, you'll see how one agency is getting ready to launch into 2009.

Sitting in my office on Jan. 2, I can't tell one way or another which way this year is going to go -- up, down or sideways. Today, we've got a decent pipeline, and there are two teams working on new-business pitches this month. That's no guarantee, but even one win puts us on a nice trajectory. Experience has taught me that as long as the phone keeps ringing, we're good.

I've been expecting to see more budget cuts from current clients, but so far any cuts have been modest. On the flip side, we're seeing some excellent media deals that have allowed us to design ambitious programs with smaller budgets. Our director of planning, Hugh Kennedy, wrote about some of these media opportunities on his blog, The Complex Brand. One factor that may work in our favor this year is that two of our biggest markets are technology and life sciences. While the recession affects everybody, these sectors have held up better than retail and financial services.

I'm most optimistic about initiatives that have nothing to do with the economy. For one, I promoted my trusted partner, Mike O'Toole, to president of the agency. He's played a huge role in our success to date, and I think he can lead us through our next round of evolution and growth. A lot of people ask me if I'm retiring, or slowing down. Hell no. This is about building our management team and letting the best people shape our future. Mike and I spent six months looking at every agency function and assigning responsibilities. At the top of my list, I've got several client relationships, agency marketing, finances and strategic planning. Mike's got everything else.

We're going to continue to add staff in key areas. Personally, I think it's hard to recruit great people in good times or bad, but recently we managed to land a couple of people that we really wanted. A new director of media, who has spent the last five years developing programs for emerging channels, just joined our San Francisco office. We were also able to recruit an interactive designer whose work we've admired for the past year. I believe A-plus talent will get you through almost anything.

A big ambition is to provide more training for the entire agency. Not surprisingly, there's a real hunger for knowledge about social media. We've got pockets of expertise, and a group of people that are actively using and experimenting with social networks. (You can follow me on Twitter at philjohnson.) But I'd like everybody in the office to increase their fluency and most importantly participate in the action. We'll also be lining up guest speakers and lunchtime seminars throughout the year.

More than ever before, this will be a year for refining operations. We're going to look at every process and behavior in the agency and weed out any habits that slow us down, add unnecessary expense or stifle creativity. I'm betting that victory will go to agencies that can be adaptable, quick on their feet, and able to dream up imaginative marketing programs for the full continuum of budgets. I'm hoping to be one of those agencies.

I wish all of you great success and personal satisfaction in the coming year. May all of your hard work and talents be rewarded, all of your opinions be heard, and all of your best ideas see the light of day.

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