Discipline: It Belongs in Your Agency

By | April 29, 2013
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Josh WoodThis is a guest post from Josh Wood (@ruckusmarketing), founder and CEO of Ruckus. Josh has been involved in the marketing, advertising and digital technology field for more than a decade. Through Ruckus, Josh has directly worked with clients as large as HSBC and Honda Motorcycles, in addition to advising on multiple successful startups in New York’s emerging Silicon Alley.

From creative workstations to in-office miniature golf courses, agencies have a reputation for being fun, innovative spaces. A culture that nurtures creativity is crucial to producing great work; however, many agencies lack business mindsets at their cores.

That’s not to say Nerf gun fights or lunch-hour pingpong games should be banned, but it’s vital that these cultural elements coexist with business ideals for the sake of your agency’s client relationships, bottom line, and ultimately, longevity.

Want to make someone in the agency business shudder? Throw in the word “discipline” or “process.” Many agency leaders will resist these factors at every opportunity, yet they’re essential. The subjective nature of design, coupled with its interaction with the creative process, can easily turn client relationships toxic when processes become suggestions rather than rules.

Healthy client relationships develop when you match curated client experiences with disciplined internal processes for deadlines and account management. These relationships, based on business principles, will weather occasional storms and deliver on the ultimate goal: revenue for both your agency and clients.

Here’s how to run your agency like a business:

1. Make Process a Priority.

Without an institutionalized process, your train will run off its tracks. That’s why it’s essential to implement a repeatable process to deliver results from management down. It’s not complicated and it’s often preached, but this ideal still remains elusive for many agencies because of their internal cultures. And while any business should maintain an element of formality, an agency is double trouble; it’s both a service and a creative business. Time and materials can be difficult to track. Change orders can silently evaporate margins before management is even aware of the situation.

2. Extend Financial Education.

It’s nothing new that accountability is key, but so is educating all employees about each client’s business theories and projected margins. Many agencies keep their client contracts and financial projections under lock and key. But while not all information needs to—or should—be disseminated to account managers, basic expectations on profitability can make all the difference. When employees are aware of the financial consequences of their actions, they inevitably behave in ways more conducive to financial success. 

3. Do the Right Research, Analyze Critically, and Draw Conclusions.

Your research should not be limited to Google. Once you’ve truly done your homework, don’t shy away from uncomfortable findings. Unchartered territory breeds growth opportunities. Then, bring a level of business acumen to the table by assisting clients in analyzing complex business problems outside your basic agency suite of services.

4. Achieve Client Buy-In.

On the client side, it generally comes down to revenue. Without an increase in this vital component, your agency can throw buzzwords left and right (i.e., brand awareness, buzz, social chatter), but these messages will eventually fall flat, and the relationship will evaporate if your agency can’t back up its claims. Clients have a low tolerance for this when it comes to their pocketbooks.

5. Execute with the Client in Mind.

Remember, trophies are for the attic. The most important aspect of the craft is revenue generation for your clients and, in turn, your agency. Stick to your process, and create and execute what you promised.

6. Rinse and Repeat.

The process is straightforward, but you’ll need to make tweaks for your specific agency. The key is to stay consistent and integrate this process into your culture. Clients will sniff out disconnect from a mile away, and it’s imperative that the two flow together seamlessly. 

At my agency, we approach our clients from a consulting side first and a creative side second. The marketplace disruption comes at the end of the process. We generate amazing, creative ideas and plenty of pretty things. But they’re merely passengers on a plane of process. And ideally, the destination—client experience—is as disciplined and strategic as it is breathtaking.