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Why Your Agency is Shit
There comes the point in every agency founder’s life when you sit back and think, is this really what I wanted when I started?
Be honest. You’ve been there.
I have when I ran my marcoms agency called Klaxon.
There are a shit load of challenges running agencies so who would blame you. The trigger might be when a key member of your team tells you she’s leaving. Or maybe your biggest account is at 90 days on a couple of invoices and you’re bricking it about hitting payroll this month.
Whatever it is, there’s a part of you that’s bound to wonder, why?
Why you’re busting your ass running your independent agency, when you could be sat in a cushy job with a holding group agency, taking crazy things like paid holidays, sick leave and maternity pay.
You know, those things that independent agency owners typically don’t enjoy. At least not in the early days.
Anyway, when you start reflecting on what’s going on with your PR /digital/creative/web dev/whatever agency, you’ll likely see that in reality, your agency is pretty shit: long hours, tones of risk and zero security.
And it’s not because you don’t love it. You do. Your agency is your baby, and you’re probably pouring your soul into it.
It’s that running an agency is tough work. Like running a marathon in a rhino costume hard, or trying to drink a dozen pints and be ready for action the next day like you’re still 25.
So, because I’ve been there, let me take a good guess at why your agency is shit.
You Are No Different to Everyone Else
There are a shed load of agencies in the UK. We’re everywhere doing everything. The last statistic I heard is there are more than 20,000 agencies, but it’s more if you count the army of freelancers and overseas agencies eating away at your pipeline.
That’s a lot of competition.
So the chances are if you have little to no points of differentiation, you probably look like any other agency to your prospective clients. How do you expect them to choose you over your competitors?
Here’s a way to test if your positioning puts you right in the middle of the road — the classic red ocean strategy.
Does your messaging include any of these phrases?
- We’re a full-service agency
- We see all our clients as partners
- We focus on results not outputs
- We solve our clients’ challenges in marketing
- We’re an outsourced marketing department
If you answered yes to any of those, I promise you this is the road to agency hell.
If you’re trying to be all things to all people with generic bland messaging, you’re almost certainly not attracting the sort of clients that are going to push you on to win awards.
Not only that, but you’ll be competing in a sea of average agencies for accounts with shit brands that nobody in their right mind wants to work on.
Good luck building a team of crack consultants to build your agency on.
Your Culture Sucks
Agencies need two things to survive. Great staff and great clients. But like the proverbial chicken and egg, what comes first?
It’s the team, stupid. Or at least, the kernel of greatness that is your team of founders. After that, you can go out and pitch everyone in your team’s Rolodex to win your first accounts – the sexier the brand, the better.
But, here’s the thing. Once you start to grow, the culture of your agency will dictate who you can hire to service your sexy new clients.
If your culture is best described as pants, you’re only going to attract cheap junior staff or grads with Thirds from the University of Backwater. The best talent will go and work for Ogilvy, or Saatchis or WeAreSocial, or some other shit hot agency with an employer brand that gets the top grads excited.
Also, if your office is in some drab co-working basement in the arse end of Townsville, this is going to be a rocky road.
Compounded by the fact you’re a ‘full-service agency’, which by definition means you stand for nothing, and you’re on the fast train to mediocrity.
That’s why your biggest account is at 90 days because they’re a crappy client that couldn’t give two hoots if they burn through an agency every six months.
Your Vision is about as Inspiring as EastEnders
The new breed of agency staffers are all millennials. There, I said it, the M word, but frankly, it had to be said because it’s true.
And the thing about millennials is, they’re looking for more than a job. They care more about making a difference in the world than helping Apple to sell more iWhatevers, or Rola Cola to sell more diabetes, er… I mean refreshing drinks.
If you want to attract the talent that’s going to take your agency from city backwater to Soho, you’re going to need to tell a great story. And that means you need a vision for your agency that inspires.
Not sure what a vision is? It’s your big hairy audacious goal or your moon shot. It’s what inspires you and your team to get out of bed in the morning and drag your asses through the rush hour mess and into the office.
‘We work with brands to help them build sustainable products and bring an end to climate change.’
By the way, I know from painful experience how important this is. I once had a senior member of my team tell me he didn’t think I had a vision for my agency, and he was off. Took me a bit by surprise that one, to be honest.
You need to inspire the hell out of people if you want them to join your small agency and help you move into the big leagues. Look up Simon Sinek and ‘Start with the Why’ if you want some pointers.
So there you have it. Three fat reasons why your agency is shit and what to do about it.
Here they are again (you could have just read this sentence, but hey ho): your agency is not differentiated, it does not have a culture to attract the best talent and has no big hairy audacious vision to inspire your team and your clients.
The first thing to say is, don’t worry. You’re not alone. I’d bet good money every agency founder or owner has been there. And guess what, that’s the solution.
Join a tribe of experienced agency owners like Agency Squared and find your salvation. Peers who can relate and empathise and then help you to find your A Game.
We’re on a mission to make owning and running an agency great!