Find Your Authority, Then Own It

And Thoughts on Truly Getting Away From the Office

By Published on .

Jeff Welch Jeff Welch
Where I was headed, checking in with the agency wouldn't be easy. I tend to be drawn to the destinations where you can drop out entirely for a while. Miss the inauguration. Not know who won the Super Bowl. Never know about the latest storm of the century raking the lower 48 until it hits me in the form of a light breeze somewhere between the equator and the Gulf of Mexico.

Our rental house was only accessible by boat. Since I had no cell coverage there, my nearest opportunity to check-in was wireless internet access at a small inn a few coves over.

I considered kayaking over with my laptop, but the winds were strong that day and I'm pretty sure our IT guy wouldn't want my Mac at the bottom of a Guatemalan lake.

So I took what could be loosely called a water taxi, squeezing into a seat between a couple of Canadians and a woman with a basket of live chickens.

I'm not usually one to check-in when I'm on vacation. Not just because of the locales but because I tend to see the inability to step away from work as a sign of weakness. Like you didn't hire people you can trust. Or you didn't plan adequately for your absence. Or you have psychotic clients that have you by the balls.

But I'd broken my rule this time. The vacation was several weeks and we've been in the midst of overhauling our business development effort (which really means overhauling our entire brand) so I figured I'd better stay on top of things. Not to mention, there's that little recession thing going on.

But this. This check-in was no mere glance at my Blackberry. There was a flare of romance and adventure to this outing, just to see if I could find a Wi-Fi connection. The chickens squawked.

I reached my destination and logged in. Nothing too out of the ordinary, in fact the check-in seemed almost pointless. We have a good team and they have things handled. But on the return trip I had one of those moments of clarity that only happen when you are out of the day-to-day grind.

The whole experience emphasized what our account planner tells us: Own your authority.

For some time now, we've been searching and searching for the right angle in business development. Trying to figure out who we are, our best prospects, how we approach them. And it's become so clear that it's right in front of us. We're pretty darn good at understanding this offbeat traveler. Heck, many of us in the office are that person. Substitute the boat for a pickup and the chickens for a border collie and you could be outside our office door here in Montana. Canadians and everything.

But it doesn't matter to prospects that we might be a lot like the target, it matters that our knowledge can translate into dollars. And like most agencies, we know it does. We have secondary research, custom, qualitative, quantitative, you name it. We know what they buy, why they buy it, how to communicate with them, what they value and what they don't. But for some reason, we've overlooked what is clearly our biggest strength. We haven't owned our authority.

A few months ago, we hired a new-business consultant who frequently mentions that by some estimates there are more than 70,000 marketing services companies in the United States. Seventy thousand. And as we all know, it's the rare few who promote themselves using any sort of unique position. We've nibbled around the edges of uniqueness, but by and large, that inability to articulate a position has been us.

Perhaps you have expertise in a particular category such as automotive or health care. Perhaps it's with a certain target segment. Maybe it's even the same one as us -- if so, I hope to meet you some day. But in this time of great change, overlooking our expertise and wasting time on unfocused pitches is like the time Michael Jordan retired to play baseball. Probably cost him three more rings and left a lot of people saying, huh?

We have a long way to go down this path, but if we own our authority, I know we'll get there. Whether it's by kayak, water taxi or we have to swim.

~ ~ ~
Jeff is the CEO of MercuryCSC in Bozeman, Mont.

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