Marketing Agency Darwinism: Grow or Go Truth be told, though we live and die by our to-do lists, when we started our agency we didn't have a business plan. What we did have was an identified need, a good idea and a bottle of wine to fuel our courage to take the plunge. The reason we are still here and going strong 13 years after we started has as much to do with that lack of business plan as it does with the rigor with which we approach our client campaigns. That may sound like an oxymoron, but it's representative of the fluid mindset needed to start and grow a successful agency. The moment that you become too rigid or start holding on to one way of thinking is your wake -up call that something needs to shift. You cannot be at the forefront of creative thinking if you are antiquated in your business approach - at least, not for very long.
When defining your value proposition, it's important to be clear on your sweet spot without making that definition so specific that it limits your opportunities as the market shifts and changes. Do you specialize in Social Media, Influencer Engagement or Digital Marketing? The core offering might be the same but the areas where you expand will differ based on how you choose to position your work. Our passion lies in creating engaging experiences. Because we did not tightly define whom those experiences are for or how they come to life, we've seen our business grow from mainly consumer programs to include B-to-B and internal campaigns, opening up new business categories. Had we written that business plan when we started, we might have unwittingly cut ourselves off from these opportunities that have helped fuel our continued growth.
Many agencies keep legacy services or departments simply because they were part of the initial vision. Maybe those services were critical to getting the business off the ground, or won the agency its first accolades. Certainly no one relishes the idea of letting staff go. But allowing one area of your company to limp along while the rest hums creates a set of even larger issues that can cripple your ability to evolve, including draining resources, lowering morale and taking focus away from more productive endeavors. These decisions should never be taken lightly, but when the handwriting is on the wall they should be handled humanely and decisively. Honor the opportunities gained and lessons learned, allowing them to inform the next phase.
The best way to ensure evolution is to cultivate a mindset from the beginning that expects and welcomes growth, rather than viewing it as something forced upon you when things aren't working anymore. This means staying connected to the wider world, looking for ways to motivate and challenge your team, and remaining hungry and curious. One of our favorite ways to stay inspired is inviting people who run larger, non-competitive agencies over for lunch and a chat. We ply them with delicious treats and shamelessly pick their brains on what they have learned during different phases of their business and we ask them for an honest assessment of our challenges and opportunities. We also give equal weight and measure to the perspective of our internal teams. We are blessed with a staff of highly engaged and motivated people who we send on inspiration missions - events, conferences and activations - across the country to gather insights and inspiration to help inform our work. Growing isn't just about getting bigger, unless that's truly your goal. It can take a range of forms - from the types of clients you work with to how you build your teams to the way you execute a campaign. Regardless of how you define it, make growth a part of your mission or risk becoming extinct.