Over the past twenty years I have run a number of digital and marketing agencies. All of them have achieved a high profile in their respective niches. Many of them have been highly successful: one became the world’s most awarded digital agency, one was sold to Interpublic, and one became the leading eCRM firm. Like most successful agencies, much of what was achieved came through a combination of luck, chutzpah and great PR. Certainty and planned progress weren’t really on the agenda, at least for my first ten years.
Since then however, we recognised that if we were to succeed we needed a plan. And that plan needed to work.
Plans are great. You start with a vision, a goal and a great team. Hopefully the top team understands that to communicate your vision effectively requires coaching ability and obsessive repetition of the mantra internally and externally, so that everyone both in our team and your prospect pool knows precisely what it is you do and what you stand for. Then you set your sights on the company’s goal (selling for X amount, or becoming the world’s leading ABC), you get everyone aligned and away you go.
Except that as I am sure you’ve noticed, great plans get sidetracked by events. A huge pitch opportunity turns up, so you drop everything for two months. Or your biggest client starts wobbling or fires you, and you have to retrench, maybe letting a few people go. Or your head of client services resigns, throwing you into three months of having to step into their shoes, making sure their clients stay happy, and recruit a replacement (on top of your day job). This is normal agency business. I’ve seen it time and time again. And the plan, the big plan, gets put on hold for a while. The next time you look it’s eighteen months later.
Time keeps on marching on. Agency life means that deadlines and ambitions shift, and that can be intensely frustrating. The people who were so enthusiastic with you move on or lose heart, and eventually confidence erodes – including sometimes your own.
Time. It’s interesting: in terms of making your ambitions become reality, timing is everything. There is a cycle and if your plan is to exit, the cycle is critical to realising the value you want to achieve when you sell. The bottom of the last cycle ended in around 2013. The top of the next is likely to hit around 2020 (when amongst other things there will be an election which could have a major impact on business confidence). That means if you want to sell and make your money, you’re like to have a three-year earnout, and working backwards that means you’re going to have to sell in 2017. In turn that gives you a couple of years (and I am being very generous there) in which to achieve a hell of a lot of tangible progress.
Which means you cannot afford to have agency life – and its (normal but time-consuming) ups and downs – get in the way.
Around seven years ago I started using a series of methodologies to ensure concrete progress happened despite the usual setbacks. We started implementing a process in our board meetings which held the top team accountable, every single month, for a set of small, incremental steps leading to bigger changes leading ultimately to achieving our goals. We initially put this in place across an agency and then when we saw how effective it was, an agency group. And we made remarkable progress. Yes, we had the usual agency setbacks (client service director replaced, a major client quit, many major client pitches won, and so on), but throughout all of those we made relentless progress towards our scheduled goals.
The process we put in place is really, really straightforward. It works for the whole board from Chairman and CFO to Creative and Planning Directors. It gives everyone the tools to know exactly what they have to do while agency chaos reigns around them, and it delivers inexorable progress. We achieved our group goals, and we made the agency sale we wanted precisely when we wanted it.
And that is the key to achieving success. Inexorable, relentless achievement of the board’s mission, on schedule. When you’ve got to get there on time, it just gets you there. I have found the process to be so robust even I (a classic ‘refuses to do timesheets’ type) have made it work across several companies, some I’ve run, some where I have been brought in as a consultant for a few days to set the process in motion. It is exceptionally powerful stuff. So, if you’d like to find out more, please do get in touch: [email protected]