Three Question to Test an Agency's Commitment to Its Principles

Hard Times Make It Tempting to Drop Our Core Beliefs

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland
We agency owners build our companies on the core beliefs we espouse. Most of us started our agencies after working for several that left us wanting. We were determined ours would be built on better principles. Like most ideals, those principles were immediately put to the test. Living up to principles versus mere survival seems to be a frequent choice to be made, doesn't it?

That's why I admire companies, and particularly agencies, that succeed with their principles intact. I realize the reason for their success wasn't luck. It was faith. Faith is a commitment to something beyond one's control: the future. Do you work at such an agency? Maybe you're not sure. I suggest you answer these questions to find out:

1. Can you state in one or two sentences what your agency is about? In other words, what is its reason for being? For example, if the answer is to make money, the decisions made will always be made with the bottom line in mind. My first agency was such a place. The president of the firm was a fine man, but his favorite quote was, "The client signs the check on one side and I sign it on the other." As a creative person who wanted to do great work, I was not exactly in the best position for success in such an agency.

2. Has your agency ever resigned a significant piece of business over differences of opinion? This is a true litmus test to legitimize if an agency is committed to its principles. A client can have a change in needs. Or they may hire you, then ask you to perform in a way that your agency is not well-suited. It's difficult to walk away from income. But honestly, has it ever worked out well when you didn't? Resigning an account is better than waiting to be fired because it sends a clear message to your employees that your are committed to the principles that they bought into when they went to work for you. There is a proper and respectful way to tell a client that you can no longer serve. Think of it this way: If I go to the hardware store to buy a car part, they are going to send me to the auto parts store. Sending a client to someone that will satisfy it needs better than you can is the epitome of serving the client. Do it.

3. Do you review your performance with clients? An annual employee performance review is profitable. So an agency performance review with its clients makes sense, doesn't it? Perhaps you do this already. If so, you'll probably find living up to your principles a bit easier to do. Too many successful companies take customers for granted. For example, I'm writing this while waiting for a flight in Memphis. American Airlines was my original carrier. They canceled my flight. When I asked why, they said "maintenance issues." I found it suspicious that there were also fewer than a dozen people waiting to board the flight. My co-workers were feverishly Tweeting about AA while waiting to be reassigned to another flight. Our original 11 a.m. flight was replaced by a flight at 3 p.m. So here we sit for the next five hours, thinking about how an airline we frequently use for business demonstrated a complete lack of remorse while inconveniencing us. While we lamented, I asked my partner what American's tagline is. "We know why you fly," we determined. I smirked, "It should be, 'We know why you fly other airlines.'" Sure one flight cancellation can happen to any airline. But it was how American went about letting us know that showed a lack of consideration for the customer. Never an apology or any gesture of goodwill. Agencies can commit the same sin. And we'll achieve the same results. Customers that feel unappreciated, move on.

So how'd your agency do? Are you protecting those ideals and principles by putting faith in them? I hope you are, because the more of us that strive to do so, the better our industry will perform.

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