Change is essential to accelerate sustainable, post-pandemic growth, but Network agency CEOs need to shortcut the soul-searching and act fast. 

As Elvis Presley once famously asked, “who doesn’t love a misattributed quote?”. And in business, no-one’s words get mis-deployed more than the patron saint of consultants, Peter Drucker. So it’s no surprise that he never said ‘what gets measured gets managed’.

Worse still for those who live by that maxim, the full quote (by academic V F Ridgeway) actually warns against it – “What gets measured gets managed – even when it’s pointless to measure and manage it, and even if it harms the purpose of the organisation to do so.”

So now that the pandemic has made change more urgent, how can Network agency CEOs prioritise the right roadmap for growth, without getting bogged down in choice, numbers and initiative fatigue?

The accelerating revolution

While the challenging market is nothing new, the pressure and urgency you face is growing by the day.

With many CMOs looking to build their brands from the bottom up, their vast demand for content is increasingly being met by in-housing.

At the same time, global production specialists are winning blue-chip clients with a compelling mix of cost efficiency and speed. And independent agencies are parking their tanks on your lawn.

Then along came COVID-19 – deepening margin pressure, accelerating societal change, and redefining the workplace and talent market.

And with all this disruption, it’s all too easy for the press to sustain an unhelpful narrative, issuing labels like ‘embattled’ and ‘beleaguered’ to favour the ‘new’ over those they cast as ‘traditional’.

In this context, it’s hardly surprising that speculation is rife about further consolidation of Network agencies. Even where the strategic rationale makes sense, the rumours are especially destabilising right now. And of course, a merged entity can only have one chief.

The bottom line is that sustainable growth has become ever harder to find. So with the tide rising fast, how can you find higher ground?

Reinventing differentiation

Whether or not you’re still hitting your numbers, delivering more of the same is no longer enough – especially if you’re used to giving ideas away and making your money back later.

Without a distinctive three-year growth plan, your destiny will be out of your hands.

Unfortunately, despite the opportunities created by clients facing ever more complex problems, you’re under-resourced, organic growth is maxed out and new-business is a bloodbath of agencies cutting their own throats.

So there’s never been a greater need to upgrade your business model and strengthen your agency brand.

In short, it’s time to reinvent differentiation. But far more than just packaging, this is a fundamental question of strategy, leadership and company-wide adaptation.

Get out of your own way 

For too long, agencies have maintained habits, beliefs and cultures that are at best outdated and at worse actively hamper growth.

For example, many so-called propositions are no more than straplines that offer clients no meaningful differentiation. Beyond listing their non-conflicted sectors, many agencies can’t even name a discrete target audience.

The age-old obsession with pitching is also self-limiting. There’s plenty of talk about becoming more consultative to get ‘upstream’, but few agencies make the necessary changes to leadership, commercials and process, not to mention provenance, skills and confidence.

Similarly, for all the woolly talk of being ‘partners’ to clients, not enough is done to cultivate the conditions required. No wonder the classic ‘land and expand’ approach to new-business often leaves you in a tactical pigeonhole that makes account growth harder.

Ultimately, failing to change these ingrained habits – like chasing any CMO with a budget – makes you complicit in your own commoditisation.

Define your roadmap for growth

To help you address these challenges, Co:definery works in partnership with creative leadership specialists Curve to deliver the Expertise-Led Agency Customer Experience (ELACE) Audit.

A fast-paced, qualitative assessment of your readiness for sustainable growth, we take your leadership team through a short series of immersive workshops to validate strengths, agree weaknesses and uncover blind spots.

The output is a prioritised roadmap towards your own definition of growth – including clarity on your agency’s unique psychological, operational and cultural hurdles.

This enables you to embed your most differentiating expertise into everything you say and do – accelerating progress through a virtuous circle of commercial gains and demonstrably effective leadership.

The window of opportunity

The pandemic has heightened the need to face fundamental issues that have been looming for years. But as the market recovers, to thrive against a vibrant independent sector, you need to be decisive.

Transformation can no longer languish in the ‘too hard’ pile and an ‘initiative’ or two won’t cut it.

Thankfully, turning the tanker doesn’t mean boiling the ocean. Instead, fast-paced change prospers through targeted intervention.

And because every solution is unique, there is no ‘average’, ‘best practice’ sets the bar too low and ‘ASAP’ is too slow. So your roadmap must be bespoke – and you need it now.

As Elvis sang, ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’. He definitely had agency transformation in mind.

Image: Alejo Storni
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