Let me risk stating the obvious: our industry is booming. At this point, it's likely all you have to do is answer the phone and the person on the other end wants you to help them with their online advertising. Clients are banging down your door. What can be bad about that? Nothing, so long as you're managing your growth. These good times are good, no doubt about it. But there are also some serious issues an agency can run into if you're not careful.
If you haven't already, you'll likely be running (sooner rather than later) into challenges associated with growing your agency. I've got a few thoughts and recommendations about how you might want to approach managing your agency's growth.
Make talent your number one priority. This has got to be the toughest challenge this industry currently faces. There simply aren't as many qualified interactive marketers as there is need for them. Recruiting must be a constant effort. In fact, we're currently looking for the best interactive media director in America to work on one of the top clients in America, doing some of the greatest, most advanced work in the interactive world... with great pay and benefits. So, if you know that person or you are that person, I want to know immediately. Seriously, e-mail me today. But I digress.
If you're a great place to work, let people know. Offer to meet with people even if you're not currently hiring for the position they're seeking. I know it can be time-consuming. But I make it a practice. We're always willing to meet smart, qualified people with whom we have a cultural match. Our business changes in the blink of an eye. That person you didn't need yesterday could be the person you've simply got to have today.
Underpromise and overdeliver. I know it's tough to say, "We can't take on your business right now," to a prospective client. But if you take on a piece of business you can't handle because you're already too busy, you stand the chance of burning out your people, disappointing a client (or two), and doing work that's less than your best. We've all heard the adage "underpromise and overdeliver." It makes sense. We all want to do great work for our clients. If you can honestly take this approach with a client, then take on the work. If you can't, don't. Simple, right? Sure, in theory. The challenge (ah, there's that word again) is making sure you put that theory into practice.
Maintain your standards. It happens to us all. You have a client that wants to "test the waters" of what online advertising can do for them. They're excited, you're excited. But the budget just isn't what it needs to be. When this happens, there are a couple of viable options:
Be candid with the client and tell them the budget isn't enough to make a significant impact for their business. If the budget isn't big enough to adequately test an offline vehicle, it probably isn't enough to give online a good chance to succeed.
If your fees are the reason why the media budget isn't big enough, you have another decision to make. Charge less, based on the prospect of future business from the client. Again, be candid with the client about making an appropriate investment in testing online advertising.
The option you don't want to pursue is to do something less than what you know is best. You know what interactive marketing is capable of. It's one of the most powerful, dynamic media for branding or direct response. But in these situations, you might be asked to "scale back" your level of service to reduce costs. When they as, "Can't you just plan it, place it, and let it run? We don't need to do any real in-depth performance tracking." Be careful. Doing so might result in the client thinking interactive advertising has failed. Make sure you give yourself and the medium every opportunity to succeed.
This is by no means a comprehensive list. Nor is it rocket science. We just need to be reminded of these things from time to time. It's important for the continued growth and long-term good fortune of our industry, our agencies, our employees, and, of course, the work.
I've said it before -- heck, I'll tell it to pretty much anybody who will listen -- this is a great time to be in this industry. If you have interesting approaches to the challenges we face, in terms of managing your agency's growth or any other aspect of our industry, I'd love to hear them. And, as a friend of mine in the industry says,"Be great!"
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Pete Lerma began his advertising career in the traditional side of the business, where he spent six years managing accounts for clients such as Coca-Cola and Subway. He then realized interactive marketing was where it's at and, in 1998, joined Click Here, The Richards Group's interactive marketing division. During his tenure at Click Here, he's forged relationships with major online publishers, networks and technology companies, and these relationships contribute to his perspective on the interactive marketing industry. As Click Here's principal, Pete oversees accounts for high profile brands including Atlantis, Hyundai, Travelocity, and Zales. His group has won numerous awards for their strategic and creative work, including recognition from the IAB, Ad:Tech, The One Club, Graphis, and Communication Arts. Pete serves on the board of directors for the Dallas/Fort Worth Interactive Marketing Association and also contributes to the marketing blog ChaosScenario.
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