Do You Know What You Want to Be When You Grow Up?

If Your Agency Is to Grow, You Need a Clear Point of View

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Nancy Kramer Nancy Kramer
What do you want to be when you grow up? We've all asked it of our friends, our children, ourselves. But have you ever asked such a question of your agency? Whether you can answer that question may well forever define you as an agency struggling to compete or as an agency that plays with -- and often bests -- the big boys several times your company's size.

A point of view about who you are is essential to an agency. It leverages a shop's inherent strengths and reflects the priorities of both the agency and its clients. Robert Greenberg built R/GA, an agency defined by and renowned for its creative point of view. Our agency is renowned for its consumer insights -- a strategic decision made more than a decade ago that's now a daily commitment.

After seemingly endless introspection and evaluation, we chose our point of view: to be a team of thought leaders. Our commitment was led by one super smart associate -- Kelly Mooney -- now our president. Back in the mid 90s, about a dozen of us spent time analyzing the usual information -- competitive data, SWOT analysis, client pyramid -- and debating what we wanted to be someday. And so began our quest.

If you're interested in taking the next step with your agency, here's how to get started. As you define your own point of view, the context for you may be different -- but the steps still apply.
  1. Gather your smartest people in a room. You know which stars shine brightest. Bring them all together. Formulate an opinion. Be aware of the difference between people who excel at gathering information versus people who artfully advance a body of thought by interpreting it -- uncovering seemingly unrelated phenomena to reach conclusions, reveal trends and "white spaces" of opportunity. Thought leadership is much more than info-gathering, particularly in the era of Google and Wikipedia.

  2. Do your homework. Validate your hunches. Conduct primary research. Assign strong objectives to research undertakings from the outset. Don't get so caught up in your own ideas that you neglect to check for commercial viability -- but do let the data reveal the unexpected. Your findings should drive client work, empower associates and continue to position you ahead of the competition.

  3. Always remember your clients. This is where the rubber meets the road. Remember, your ideas must be converted to strategies and tactics if they are to have business value for your clients. If you commit to sustained thought leadership, you really believe that your role as a consultancy is not just to execute the client's vision, but to enhance that vision based on solid consumer, market and trend intelligence.

  4. Set the tone. Create a culture that encourages true thought leadership, helps it flourish as a point of pride and rewards a well-informed perspective. A culture that supports lively debate, genuine dialogue and differing viewpoints creates the right conditions. Whether it's building a reading wall with recommended articles from business and trade publications, or using an internal blog to share industry insights, establish a fitting forum for discovery and discussion.

  5. Think BIG. Dare to dream. Don't just crank out white papers. Reach the biggest audience possible by the coolest mechanisms possible. Embrace new media, new ways to disseminate knowledge. And never lose sight of your end goals. Anything is possible.
In that strategic planning session more than a decade ago, the long term goal at the top of our list was to create a compelling point of view and ultimately publish our first book. At the time, I couldn't imagine how on earth we would ever realize it. But after 11 years of annual benchmarking studies covered by major media outlets, highly regarded trendwatching and rapid prototyping expertise, client symposia and two marketing books, our investment has nurtured a client list containing some of the world's largest brands.

Had we not recognized the strategic importance of articulating a point of view about our future, our present would certainly look much different -- and our future less bright. Know that the future isn't about luck. Take the time, make the investment and commit to a unique position in your industry and the world. Your associates and your clients will reap the rewards.

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Nancy Kramer is the founder and CEO of Resource Interactive, Columbus, Ohio. For complete Small Agency Diary bios, click here.
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