8 things ad agencies should do better

elephantA lot of talking happens around the subject of what the ad agency of tomorrow will look like and how it will operate. Changing business models, revenue structures and processes can seem like a big job, and it is. However, there are lots of relatively simple things a traditional ad agency can do right now to help improve the way they function:

1. Never under-estimate traffic
Good traffic people are the unsung heroes of the agency world. They are the true heart of an agency. Traffic is the junction where the creativity of an agency and the commercial  realities of running a  business meet. A good traffic person understands the creative process, and how hard it is to be confronted with a blank piece of paper or computer screen and turn it into a business solution. They realise the work required. They know if a job has been scoped correctly. They know the value of where time should be spent, and where it can be saved. They know the strengths and weaknesses of the teams and resources at their disposal. They’re a shoulder to cry on. They’re an ear for a whinge. They’re a guiding voice. They’re an island of reality in a sea of bullshit.
On the other hand, bad traffic people see their role as simply looking at a spreadsheet of jobs going through the agency and then blindly applying resource to them. Some agencies have even removed the role of traffic, simply adding it to a junior account handler’s duties.
Honestly, I reckon if you get traffic wrong, then you’re pushing it uphill from the start.

2. Be more personable
This is an issue also faced on a societal level. As we grow from a smaller, village way of living to larger communities, we become more impersonal. We start to lack empathy.
You see it in agencies too. When it happens, colleagues and fellow workers simply become faces in the hall. We no longer see them as team mates who have your  back and you have theirs. Sometimes, we  don’t even see them as people – people with feelings and families and other stuff going on in their lives.
In a former career, an older colleague once told me, ‘Your staff are your #1 customer’. Treat them accordingly.

3. Keep people informed
This pretty much follows on from the point above.
There is nothing worse than when you find out something about your agency in the trade press. It’s a bit like a stranger giving you news about your own family. A good agency believes in transparency. You’re never going to create a strong team if staff feel as though they’re not really part of it.

4. Manage the hierarchy
I’m not suggesting that ad agencies become communes. I’m a firm believer in fewer committees. Without hierarchy, things can easily turn to anarchy and an agency starts to look like William Golding’s Lord of the Flies.
However, you should avoid creating an ‘us and them’ culture. You don’t want to end up with an organisation consisting of the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’.

5. Know where the runs are coming from
It might seem obvious, but I’ve seen plenty of agencies that seem to have no idea which parts of their agency are successful. It’s usually a problem that relates back to point #2, above.
You should know which clients are doing what. Know which staff are doing what. Know the hours they are really working. Know which accounts are paying their way, and which ones aren’t.
Reward and resource accordingly.

6. Ask your freelancers
When you’ve had a senior freelancer in your agency for longer than 2 or 3 weeks, exit interview them. Freelancers are in the unique position of seeing ‘behind the curtain’ of lots of different agencies, allowing them a broader view. They know what works well and what doesn’t. They’ll give you a totally unbiased opinion of your agency, and their experiences in it.

7. Don’t be a slave to process
Never blindly follow process. Always remember that it’s there to facilitate and aid the end product rather than dictate it. I’ve seen agencies reduce the timeline on projects by up to 30% simply to accommodate their process. When this happens you have to ask, ‘Are we really focused on the end goal?’

8. Rethink awards
Awards have their place. When used well, they can give recognition to an agency, install pride, and attract new business and  talent.
However, when used badly they become a self-serving indulgence.
I’d invite agencies to challenge this. Is there a better way to use those considerable award show budgets? Could you redirect those funds into other avenues? Perhaps re-invent it as your ‘R&D budget’ to be used on building the agency’s own products. You have considerable resource at your disposal. Instead of paying your people to write case studies and craft entry boards, you could pay people to create films and art. Or build apps and business ideas you can white-label and then share the rewards with staff.

Photo: artwork by Banksy

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