Someone At Your Agency Needs to Stop for a Moment and Think

Don't Let Today's Work Overwhelm Tomorrow's Strategy

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In the agency business, it is very easy to slip into the pattern of doing versus thinking.

You get caught up in serving clients, pitching for new ones, managing the staff, putting out fires and solving today's problems. And that can go along very well for a while, while your shop continues to thrive. But one day you will pick your head up and the company will be rudderless -- a ship without direction. So it is critical to gather the troops, and set out for a few days of dreaming, and questioning, and planning and charting the path forward.

Each year, the senior leadership of Brownstein Group moves off campus to do just that . We ask ourselves tough questions:

  • What's the right strategy to grow?
  • What people do we need to get there?
  • What do we need to do to improve?
  • Are we executing our positioning?
  • Do our own team members back at the shop know what we stand for -- especially the new hires?
  • What are new services or products we can offer?
  • What's it gonna cost to execute the strategy -- both in time, resources and dollars?
  • Who's gonna "own" each of the commitments we make, to ensure we do them, not just talk about them?
We also meet regularly during the year for a couple of hours at a time, to share what's going on in the shop and offer solutions. But the extended planning retreat goes a lot further. Typically, we hold it in late June. But we had to postpone it for a big client presentation. Then we re-scheduled it for late July. It's late July as I write this, and it hasn't taken place yet. Big workload, pressing client deadlines and limited bandwidth were the reasons. Now it's back on the calendar for the end of August. And darn it -- we're gonna have it. I am fully expecting the Postpone the Retreat lobby to show up in my office as the date nears. And I know it will be for the same reasons we moved it twice already this summer. But it won't happen this time, because it's summer -- the easiest time of the year to get away, despite what's on our plates now. Waiting till the fall won't be any better, in my experience.

Frankly, strategic planning for your own agency is mission critical. In an industry that changes at the speed of business, staying ahead of those changes is not a "nice-to"; it's a "need-to." What was relevant last year may not be this year. Service offerings, like social-media strategy and execution, that were novel 18 months ago are standard issue today. So what's next? Helping drive new revenue for clients in a slow-growing economy takes deep thought. Media budgets are shrinking, while results expectations are increasing. How can ad/pr agencies continue to be important advisers?

Tackling these challenges gets the adrenaline going for me. I am fortunate to have some very smart people around me to help guide Brownstein Group through the next year and beyond. So if the Outlook invite to postpone the August date comes through, you know what my reply will be.

Marc Brownstein is president of The Brownstein Group, Philadelphia.
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