Insights.

Why network agencies aren’t dead yet

Why network agencies aren’t dead yet

Despite the demise of network agencies being greatly exaggerated, to thrive in 2021, marketers still need to choose their agency partners more carefully than ever. (This article first appeared...

Despite the demise of network agencies being greatly exaggerated, to thrive in 2021, marketers still need to choose their agency partners more carefully than ever. (This article first appeared in Marketing Week and was written for a Marketing audience) From cats vs dogs and Blur vs Oasis, to a certain referendum - the specifics of which escape me - we all love a binary debate. Either pick a side and fight to the death, or grab some popcorn and watch sparks fly. And of course, it's all good, clean fun - until it's not. Things turn ugly, livelihoods are lost and families get torn apart. And that’s just over pop music. So given the ongoing challenges that marketers face in 2021, let’s explore another great debate of our age - network agencies vs independents. 

Are network agencies obsolete? 

A popular refrain is that indies are agile and networks are slow. It’s certainly true that 2020 saw indies snaffle some big name client wins. In contrast, being publicly listed, the holding companies’ understandably challenging numbers were very visible. So it’s been easy to sustain a ‘demise of the networks’ narrative.  But how real is that? And what are the implications for marketers? My consultancy, Co:definery, teamed up with creative leadership specialists Curve and research agency BAMM to ask marketers how they viewed network and independent agencies. We also spoke to a range of agency CEOs to get their take. So fetch a cold one, get comfy and let battle commence. 

Agency ownership matters

First up, is indie vs network even a thing? After all, no ‘networks’ or ‘indies’ are created equal. And clearly no two holding companies are alike either. Alongside the size difference between, say, Dentsu and Omnicom, the cultural differences are vast too.  At the same time, although all agencies are facing headwinds, perhaps network shops are enduring more resistance. Because they skew larger than indies, any decline in retainers will be more disruptive for them. Likewise, the bigger the agency, the more that structure and process become a necessary evil. No wonder unhappy network agency clients often cite scale as a perceived reason for dissatisfaction.  Aside from the relative health of indie and network agencies, our research demonstrates that marketers do care about ownership status. Only 15.7% said it wasn’t a factor in agency selection - less than half the amount who said the distinction was critical. And these trends were even more pronounced for higher spenders.  Interesting, right? Let’s unpack why.

Breadth of capability

Network agencies often trade on breadth of service. In response, indies point at competing P&Ls and a thriving, multi-disciplinary freelance market; not least the various ‘collectives’ being formed by top talent exiting big agencies.  Natalie Graeme, co-founded independent Uncommon Creative Studio after leaving WPP’s Grey. She told me: “Although no agency has a load of people sitting there ready to go, networks like to tell clients that they have a ‘man that can’. But that ‘man’ is often just a warm body, rather than the best person for the job. It's about finding the right talent, not just the most available." Sara Tate followed the opposite path, leaving independent creative agency Mother to become CEO at Omnicom’s TBWA in London. She said: “Whether it’s independent or owned by a holding company, no type of agency has the monopoly on assembling the perfect client team; it’s about having the right attitude and process.” Long-time network agency leader Tim Bonnet is now President at Unlimited, an independent group (albeit private equity-backed) that’s larger than many local network agency offices. He points to a cultural difference: "Network agencies focus on keeping client spend within the company or within the holding company’s current offering, but indies have a culture of looking outside for new innovations." Whether essential skills come from inside or out, network agencies’ ability to deliver a breadth of service was endorsed by our research. At 33.2%, this was marketers’ top answer when asked what makes network agencies attractive. In contrast, at 17.6%, breadth of service was only a middle ranking quality of indies.

The role of quality

Regardless of breadth, surely quality and talent are all-important? That’s why agencies love that hackneyed maxim, ‘our people are our most important asset’. Publicis-owned Leo Burnett CEO Charlie Rudd - himself a product of a pre-acquisition BBH - told me: “When you’re running agencies, the only thing you need to worry about is your talent - getting the best people and keeping them motivated, happy and able to do their best work.” But can network agencies really do this? Larissa Vince suggests not. CEO of independent creative agency Now - having joined from Publicis’ Saatchi & Saatchi - she says: “Being handed arbitrary, multi-market pay freezes stops you from rewarding the people who are nailing it.” Interestingly, our research showed that ‘quality of people, thinking and work’ was only a middle ranking feature of network agencies’ appeal. And for bigger spending brands, this slipped to less than a third of the importance of breadth of service.  So are network agencies safe and solid one-stop shops? Not necessarily - quality of people, thinking and work was a similarly middling quality in indies too.

Agility and independence 

If marketers place similar importance on talent in networks and indies, then perhaps how people work matters more? After all, ‘agility’ looms large in this debate.  Many indies claim to be more nimble, suggesting that running a network agency can feel like a straitjacket. As Uncommon’s Natalie Graeme puts it: “Holding companies value predictability, which means less flexibility on models and less commerciality within account management.” Matthew Saunby is the executive creative director at creative agency 2050London. Having worked at networks and indies from AMV and TBWA to BBH and Forever Beta, he’s well placed to offer a balanced view on hierarchy and flexibility:  “There may be extra layers in network agencies, but that rigour can also lead to better work. And although the process can feel quicker in indies, it’s sometimes an illusion, especially if you’re throwing dozens of ideas at the client. If you’re not careful, this ‘agility’ becomes over-collaborative and leads to the safest, most familiar work.”  Our research makes a similarly nuanced case. For the biggest spending brands, 38.5% of marketers cited ‘speed, flexibility and agility’ as a compelling quality in network agencies - second only to breadth of service.  In contrast, while speed, flexibility and agility was just as highly prized within indies, it became less valued by higher spenders.  That’s a plot twist, right? Not only is ‘agility’ far from the sole preserve of indies, bigger spending brands find it more often in network agencies. 

The leadership factor 

Another trope is that indies get closer to your business than network agencies. Is that real? And is it what you actually want?  While the input of founders is surely a given in small indies, perhaps any sense of ‘closeness’ is heightened by the cachet of the owners working on your account. After all, with other people running IT, HR and their building, a network agency CEO might actually be more available.  Regardless of ownership, maybe this boils down to how important you feel to your agency. Are they focused on making money for you or for themselves?  Former ITV marketer Simon Orpin is now CEO at independent media agency Electric Glue. He says: “Indies can focus more on their people, which improves the client product and in turn drives profit. In network agencies, these priorities sometimes run the other way round.” Our research revealed that management style is marketers’ biggest frustration with both indies and network agencies. However, they describe network agencies as being too hands-on and indies not being hands-on enough.  Who saw that one coming? Nope, me neither. 

Rise of the adaptables 

Alongside some nuanced surprises, our research uncovered just as many similarities. After all - newsflash! - difference is relative and preference is subjective. Case in point: as TBWA CEO Sara Tate put it, “if we’re competing with Accenture Interactive, then who’s the indie?”  So what’s the bigger picture for marketers right now?  We found that since the onset of COVID-19, the agency qualities that have increased most in importance were pretty consistent across networks and indies - namely ‘sector experience’, ‘quality of thinking and work’, ‘speed, flexibility and agility’ and ‘stability’.  Ultimately, you need innovative solutions to novel problems. So all agencies need to adapt - quickly. And judging by the transformation briefs they’re bringing to Co:definery, they hear you loud and clear - although be a mate and keep saying it, yeah?

Advice for choosing wisely

The anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” This applies to agency ‘citizens’ within both networks and indies. In 2021, clearly choosing the right agencies has never been more important. And with brilliant, motivated and well organised teams found in myriad places, you need to choose more wisely than ever. So what should marketers bear in mind?  Once the pandemic passes, maintain the new spirit of partnership. Saatchi & Saatchi London’s managing director Sarah Jenkins observes: “COVID-19 has brought us much closer to client problems, so trust and honesty have increased, which has enabled us to be more instinctive.”  Don’t just hire an agency for now. Or as Wunderman Thompson’s UK CEO Pip Hulbert put it: “Understand how the world and consumers are changing, so treat your agency like a marriage and make sure you can grow together.”  If you need ‘agility’, then self-awareness matters. "Knowing what you want is the best way to access speed. You don't need to be big or small - on the client or agency side - you just need to be clear". Wise words from McCann London CEO Sheryl Marjoram.  And having delved into one distinction, here’s one more - from Colenso BBDO chief strategy officer Rob Campbell. “Rather than indie vs network, it’s more a case of whether the agency wants to be at the business end of creativity or the creative end of business. The former is a greater focus on revenue and the latter is a commitment to the power of creativity. Clients just need to understand which kind of agency they want.” So there you have it. In a world where polarised views rarely promote progress, marketers need more nuance and clarity than ever. Let smart agencies challenge you, then seek out the perfect fit, wherever that may be.  If independence or network ownership is mission critical, then follow your chosen path with confidence. Just don’t be guided by preconceptions. After all, with any binary choice, your decision only matters when it really matters.  And for the record, it’s Blur by a mile. ‘Roll With It’ sounded like the theme tune to Only Fools and Horses. Don’t @ me. 
Image: Marketing Week

Don’t lose the race to higher ground

Don’t lose the race to higher ground

Change is essential to accelerate sustainable, post-pandemic growth, but agency CEOs need to shortcut the soul-searching and act fast.      As Elvis Presley once famously asked, “who...

Change is essential to accelerate sustainable, post-pandemic growth, but 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 a priority for agencies, how can you create a roadmap for growth, without getting bogged down in options, numbers and initiative fatigue?  The accelerating revolution Step one is to recognise the scale of the challenge. While a tough market is nothing new, the pressure and urgency you face is growing by the day - especially in larger agencies.  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 promise of cost efficiency and speed. And independent agencies have Network agencies in their sights Then there’s COVID-19 - disrupting client spend, accelerating societal change, and redefining the workplace and talent market.  And as if that wasn’t enough, these tectonic shifts also enable the press to maintain a polarised narrative, with smaller agencies cast as ‘agile’ and those they see as traditional labelled as ‘embattled’ or ‘beleaguered’. Rising internal pressures  It’s similarly tricky inside the agency. For Network shops in particular, whether you’re still hitting your numbers or not, delivering more of the same is no longer enough. 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 giving ideas away and making your money back later is now a non-starter. And there’s only so far you can manage costs downwards.  All this makes further agency consolidation inevitable. And even where the strategic rationale makes sense, let’s not forget that a merged entity can only have one chief.  Without a distinctive three-year growth plan, your destiny will be out of your hands.  So what’s stopping you?  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. And 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 agencies becoming more consultative to get ‘upstream’, but few make the necessary changes to their decision making and commercial model, not to mention their mindset, skills and process.  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 to growth In this context, there’s never been a greater need to reinvent differentiation. But this is about far more than just packaging - it’s about strategy, leadership and company-wide change. Ultimately, clients are now demanding that agencies demonstrate deeper expertise, so building a differentiated Customer Experience (CX) is essential.  Whether that means serious transformation or more nuanced optimisation, you need to define priority improvements across what you do, not just what you say.  That’s why Co:definery partners with creative leadership specialists Curve to deliver the Agency CX Roadmap - a clear plan for holistic adaptation.  Through a short series of immersive workshops, we assess your strengths and weaknesses, identify blind spots and agree prioritised actions, owners and timelines.  By addressing your agency’s unique psychological, operational and cultural hurdles to change, you create a virtuous circle of commercial gains and demonstrably effective leadership.  Your window of opportunity The pandemic has heightened the need to address fundamental issues that have been looming for years. But to thrive as the market recovers, you must be decisive.  Transformation can no longer languish in the ‘too hard’ pile and an ‘initiative’ or two won’t cut it. You need to set the right course and bring people with you.  Thankfully, turning the tanker doesn’t mean boiling the ocean. Instead, fast-paced change prospers through targeted intervention. And because every agency is unique, there is no ‘average’, ‘best practice’ sets the bar too low and ‘ASAP’ is too slow. So your roadmap needs to be bespoke - and you need it now.  Our Agency CX Roadmap defines your shortest course to sustainable growth and empowers you and your people to deliver lasting change.  As Elvis sang, ‘a little less conversation, a little more action’. He definitely had agency transformation in mind.
Image: Alejo Storni

Find your shortest course to sustainable growth

Find your shortest course to sustainable growth

To adapt for growth as COVID-19 passes, agencies must develop their own unique customer experience. Step one is to prioritise what needs to change. Even before the pandemic, the traditional...

To adapt for growth as COVID-19 passes, agencies must develop their own unique customer experience. Step one is to prioritise what needs to change. Even before the pandemic, the traditional agency business model was creaking at the seams. Clients had changed how they buy - and from whom - and many agencies were struggling to adapt.  Now that COVID-19 has accelerated the need for meaningful change, the big question is where to start.

Finding deeper differentiation 

Sustainable growth is increasingly built on differentiation across your entire Customer Experience (CX). So whether that means serious transformation or more nuanced optimisation, you need to define priority improvements across what you do, not just what you say.  That’s why Co:definery has partnered with creative leadership specialists Curve to develop the Agency CX Roadmap - a clear, actionable plan for business-wide change. 

Creating your CX Roadmap

Taking your leadership team through a short series of immersive workshops, the process grades your collective aspirations and progress against five pillars of agency Customer Experience: 
  1. Strategy e.g. proposition, audience use-cases, internal buy-in
  2. Leadership e.g. collaboration, innovation, trust 
  3. Operational e.g. stability, growth readiness, employer brand
  4. Marketing e.g. infrastructure, outreach model, lead generation
  5. Selling e.g. protecting your time, converting faster, monetising thinking.
Keeping things structured and fast, we combine your views with our own experience and recommendations to create the following deliverables: 
  1. Agreed strengths, weaknesses and blind spots
  2. Achievable priorities
    • ranked for importance vs. urgency
    • clear owners, actions and deadlines
    • clarity on how success is defined.
Disagreements are resolved, everyone learns a lot and the actions are agreed in the room, so you’re ready to get moving straight away.  And where you need outside help to maximise momentum - and make change stick - then Co:definery and Curve design a bespoke programme of consulting, coaching and mentoring support. 
"The Agency CX Roadmap process was incredibly useful for Engine, giving us a meaningful new focus and energy. By serving up independent, considered and rigorous insights, it sparked frank debate about our future strategy. That impartiality helped us get elephants out of the corner, creating a space of openness and trust where everyone felt comfortable to reimagine or reinvent, without feeling protective of the status quo. I would recommend it highly."

Jim Moffatt, CEO Europe & Asia Pacific, Engine

Set your course for growth

To thrive as the global economy recovers from the pandemic, agencies must stand out in an uncertain and fast-moving competitive landscape. That requires decisive action now.  And because clients are demanding deeper, more demonstrable expertise, building a differentiated Customer Experience is essential.  So the Agency CX Roadmap defines your shortest course to sustainable growth and empowers you and your people to deliver lasting change.  The process creates a safe space to resolve difficult issues. And because you take those decisions together, the shared commitment makes everyone accountable for change.  From there you can accelerate growth with clarity and conviction. Find out more by getting in touch.
Image: David Przybyla

Stop paying agencies for their time

Stop paying agencies for their time

Armed with a new perspective on accountability, marketers have an opportunity to be more innovative, get more done faster and help create a healthier industry. (This article first appeared in...

Armed with a new perspective on accountability, marketers have an opportunity to be more innovative, get more done faster and help create a healthier industry. (This article first appeared in Marketing Week and was written for a Marketing audience) They say nostalgia’s not what it was, but I disagree. It’s a joy to look back and see how far we’ve come. Bum bags and white denim, anyone? And remember when we were all legally obliged to mime air quotes whenever we said ‘working from home’? Ah, crazy days. That was in March. Now we’re debating post-pandemic change, it’s clear that we can be productive away from the office. No-one’s saying it’s easy – hashtag: homeschool – but it’s totally doable. That’s created a healthier, more trusting version of accountability. If the output’s great, then it doesn’t matter where we are or, crucially, whether it took five minutes or five hours. In which case, given that marketers and agencies expend so much energy on ratecards and timesheets, might there be real value in refocusing from inputs to outputs?

The limitations of time

Everyone agrees that lawyers suck. Even their mums. Not least because they sell time. And although that puts a ceiling on their revenues – agencies, take note – it also means that their clients bear all the risk. In short, lawyering takes as long as lawyering takes. As I say, they suck. Marketers often feel the same frustration when buying agencies on a time-and-materials basis. As the former RBS CMO David Wheldon neatly put it to me, “you’re paying agencies to get it wrong, when it would cost you less if they got it right”. Having said that, many agencies lack the lawyer’s backbone. By regularly over-servicing and failing to re-scope, they’re effectively giving you a fixed price, so the risk flips back to them. This is most common on short-term projects, but the risk shifts again within retained relationships. Overruns often resurface later on, when the agency waves their timesheets at you, arguing for a fee increase. You might be relaxed about both of these scenarios. After all, de facto fixed fees are the agency’s problem, whilst deferred pleas for more money can be dismissed with a ‘talk to the hand that feeds’. So why bother refocusing on buying outputs? Because modern marketing requires unprecedented scale, breadth and urgency of communications. You need speed, volume and quality – not a futile struggle to measure the hours spent doing it. Handling content production or programmatic media in-house might help, but external thinking from great agencies is still essential. So if they’re struggling to make enough money – regardless of whose fault that is – then you have a problem. And the more you squeeze their ratecards, the more you’re chasing them to the bottom when you need their brains more than ever.

A culture of innovation

Agencies know that their work is like art – it’s the deliverable, not the time spent. They’ve all scrawled game-changing ideas on the back of a napkin. And yet many struggle to track time, defend rates and monetise thinking. But it doesn’t have to be like that. MediaMonks, part of Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital, doesn’t use timesheets, so they couldn’t sell time even if they wanted to. Founder Wesley ter Haar talks about embracing ‘scar tissue’ – they accept the risk of pricing based on outputs, knowing that if they get it wrong, they’ll apply the learnings next time. Think about the cultural difference that creates. From risk-averse covering of costs, to embracing risk and powering innovation. The latter requires confidence, as well as a different commercial model, pricing stack and mindset. Agencies don’t find this transformation easy – especially when they’re under ratecard pressure. But it’s a quicker route to margin growth than competing with management consultancies for technology infrastructure projects. And more to the point, marketers would really value the innovation.

Help agencies to help you

For agencies to evolve in this way, change needs to be systemic – from how they market, sell and price, to how brands choose, pay and evaluate. Clearly everyone on the client side needs to contribute. As Adidas’s global senior director of marketing procurement Barry Byrne told me: “To truly maximise value, the answer is to align marketing, procurement and agencies behind a unified set of KPIs. This ensures all parties work together to deliver the required outputs.” So it’s timely that the World Federation of Advertisers’ Global Sourcing Board recently launched Project Spring, its call for a “revolution” whereby procurement becomes a “trusted partner of brand investment strategy”, not least by pursuing KPIs beyond savings. Encouragingly, they’ve embraced ‘partners’ – aka agencies – as part of that journey too. Turning to marketers, David Wheldon – who’s involved with Project Spring – believes that you have a big role to play: “There are relatively few marketing procurement people that understand both disciplines, so good marketers can educate them on what agencies do and the value they bring.” So if you embrace procurement and help all parties align around business value, then great progress can be made.

Embedding positive change

Being stuck at home during this awful pandemic has made us more mindful of our mental health and productivity. At the same time, we’ve still delivered, despite no-one peering over our shoulders. Building trust, confidence and accountability, this is a hugely positive shift of perspective. Switching the client/agency conversation from inputs to outputs can help make that change stick. To be clear, this is about fixed fees for agreed outputs. Talking about outcomes and payment by results is a different conversation. So let’s leave metrics, attribution and ‘skin in the game’ for another day. Moving away from rates and time spent creates an environment where agencies can thrive. With strong propositions – and clarity on where their expertise begins and ends – they can work smarter, improve margins and attract the best talent. At the same time, you and your procurement colleagues would get breakthrough thinking faster, as well as certainty of price and deliverables – and who doesn’t need a little less uncertainty right now? With any luck, perhaps before long we’ll look back on billable hours with a wry smile, wondering what planet we were on. A bit like with bum bags.
Image: Marketing Week

Time to embrace agency transformation

Time to embrace agency transformation

The pandemic has accelerated the need for fundamental change - this is achieved through nuanced adaptation not wholesale reinvention. Having made tough decisions, supported your team and...

The pandemic has accelerated the need for fundamental change - this is achieved through nuanced adaptation not wholesale reinvention. Having made tough decisions, supported your team and stayed close to evolving client needs, you’ve emerged into this worryingly open-ended ‘new normal’.  Now the big question is what kind of agency you want to be when all this is over. Or more specifically, how to maximise competitive advantage by quickly adapting to the emerging market conditions.  But in amongst a dizzying array of options, constraints and pressures, where should you start and how can you move quickly? 

The overdue evolution

Even before the pandemic, it wasn’t an easy market - brands were demanding more for less, margin pressure was growing and agencies were competing hard for talent. In addition, in-housing was growing fast, new competitors were gaining traction and clients were getting more risk-averse Then along came COVID-19 - disrupting committed spend, accelerating societal change and redefining the workplace. So whether you’re rebuilding or ready to capitalise, there’s never been a greater need to respond to these challenges by upgrading your business model and strengthening 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 client with a budget - makes you complicit in your own commoditisation. 

Define your roadmap to growth

To help you address these challenges, Co:definery works in partnership with creative leadership specialists Curve to deliver the Agency CX Roadmap. The process takes your senior 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 address fundamental issues that have been looming for years. But to thrive as the market recovers, you need to be decisive.  So whether your agency needs discrete optimisation or more profound transformation, change can’t languish in the ‘too hard’ pile. Instead, fast-paced evolution prospers through targeted intervention. And because every solution is unique, there is no ‘average’, ‘ASAP’ is too slow and ‘best practice’ sets the bar too low. So your roadmap must be bespoke.  Ask yourself - if not now, then when? Your competitors will be using this time wisely.
Image: Cindy Tang

Positioning is dead – it’s time to make yourself scarce

Positioning is dead – it’s time to make yourself scarce

Given the rocky road ahead, finding growth won’t be easy, so differentiation will be more critical than ever. Step one is to liberate your agency from outdated disciplines. Clearly the...

Given the rocky road ahead, finding growth won’t be easy, so differentiation will be more critical than ever. Step one is to liberate your agency from outdated disciplines. Clearly the pandemic has hit the agency world hard. And with talk of a second wave in Autumn and the furloughing crutch about to be removed, driving growth will remain a real challenge.  And if you agree that differentiation will be essential, then the priority is how to create it - not least in a market where traditional positioning statements feel so limiting.  No-one’s ‘just’ digital, advertising or design anymore, or SEO, experiential or PR. Being defined by a single discipline is deeply dissatisfying.  It’s the biggest single reason why agencies struggle to stand out. But that said, although it’s a big strategic question, it’s not as important as you think. 

What do you do? 

Nothing divides an agency Board more than identity. What kind of agency are we? Will our clients - or our people - abandon ship if we get our discipline wrong? Someone always argues for being ‘creative’ and another will say “but ‘Creative’ means ‘advertising’”. To which the first replies, “but how else will people know we’re creative?”.  Face-palm.  Adjectives are in play too. ‘Integrated’ gets pitted against its cousins, ‘full-service’ and ‘multi-channel’. Some argue ‘full-service’ only means media-plus-creative. Others worry that ‘integrated’ is shorthand for jack-of-all-trades.  Even the word ‘agency’ ties people in knots. Are you a studio, firm, business, consultancy, company, collective or even - Jesus wept - a ‘group of people’?  Although the intellectual gymnastics are impressive, the endless debate is exhausting. And the result is either a flimsy consensus that no-one likes, or a diktat that no-one uses. 

Everyone does everything

It all used to be so simple - few disciplines, all neatly defined. Clients knew what they wanted and where to find it. But they don’t buy like that any more Now that traditional channel boundaries have melted away, single-discipline positioning statements just don’t do you justice. UX specialists do service design; shopper agencies offer experiential; everyone does social media. And so it goes on.  You become a hostage to how clients choose to define the language - not least in how you optimise for search listings.  Of course it helps if you’re in an emergent discipline, like digital transformation, innovation consultancy or digital product and service design. But even these overlap.  And besides, an in-demand positioning won’t differentiate you for long. Not only will other specialists flood in, but dabblers soon squeeze out the credibility from your expert language. Surely ‘agile’ just means ‘fast-and-cheap’, right?  In recent times, agencies have understandably converged on the multi-disciplinary holy grail of ‘customer experience’, so discipline-based positionings became blurrier still.  And then along came COVID-19. 

The death of positioning

As an accelerant to existing trends, the pandemic is proving to be the final death knell for traditional positioning statements.  Suddenly traditional selling felt crass, so ‘helping’ and ‘empathy’ became essential - as if they weren’t before. But in particular, it became clear that simply listing your disciplines was an ineffective - and often insensitive - way of communicating why clients should choose you.  Your first task was plotting a course through the initial disruption, but now it’s time to maximise differentiation as you power through the ongoing uncertainty.  So what are your options? 

Standout in a positionless world 

Some agencies invent their own pseudo positioning. But if you’re ‘The XYZ Agency’ and have to immediately explain what your all-new ‘XYZ’ discipline actually means, then you’re burying your value not surfacing it.  Others recognise the need to focus on their proposition, defining an outcome for a discrete audience. But they often falter at the first sign of sacrifice, defaulting to offering their generic discipline to anyone with a pulse - maybe adding a superlative for insecurity’s sake.  
  • Awesome PR for ambitious clients 
  • Digital Transformation for the world’s best brands 
  • Advertising for brave CMOs. 
In fairness, none of these are wrong, they’re just stale and undifferentiating. Which causes way more problems than an empty pipeline As a sense-check for standout, ask ‘could the opposite ever be true?’. Clearly ‘so-so SEO for unambitious brands’ would be madness.  The one exception to discipline-for-great-clients falling flat is where you’ve earned serious recognition in your field. Check out Work & Co. Not much of a proposition, but a Who’s Who of clients, with a simple, confident site to match. But for the vast majority of agencies, positioning isn’t enough. So your proposition needs to work much harder. 

Becoming truly client-centric 

By solving a specific audience’s problem, a strong proposition makes your whole business more client-centric and empathetic. It shifts your emphasis from services to outcomes. 
  • We’re spinal surgeons for sportspeople, getting athletes back to the top of their game
  • I’m an artist creating multi-sensory experiences for the blind
  • We’re social media experts for listed companies, here’s what happens if the shit hits the fan. 
In all these examples, a generic positioning - or discipline - only serves to tee-up a far more differentiating proposition, i.e. a defined outcome for someone in particular.  Note that your outcome must be specific to your target client. Just as ‘marketers with money’ isn’t a discrete audience, helping clients ‘sell more stuff’ won’t make you stand out. 

Proving your promise 

Another tip is to hold fire on proof points like services, clients and case studies - they’re the ‘how’ that follow the all-important ‘what’. Until you’ve stated your proposition, how you do it lacks context. You’re selling a meal, not the ingredients.  Back in the day, an ‘advertising’ agency buying an internal comms specialist would have confused their positioning. Were they still an ad agency? An internal-and-external brand specialist? Or - kill me now - the world’s first ‘Intern-vertising™’ agency? But with a modern proposition around ‘reinvigorating retail brands’, acquiring skills that impact shop floor staff would add valuable proof. Their ailing clients don’t care about positioning, as long as that promise is kept. A rose by any other name would stop my retail chain going bust.  So once your outcome captures attention, that’s when proof matters. And it’s not just what you say, but also what you do. Your entire agency customer experience should substantiate your proposition. 

Be hard to ignore

Ultimately, demonstrating your expertise in delivering an outcome is what creates standout. That means scarcity, which gives you leverage to get upstream, leave the pitching merry-go-round and command a premium.  Will you ever be in a market of one? Perhaps. But will endlessly rephrasing your discipline ever create standout? No chance. Although proposition development can be tricky, searching for a unique positioning will drive you to distraction. So accept the fact that all the good words are taken. Just be comfortable with the least worst option.  And the next time your Board is arguing over your discipline, remember that clients don’t give a toss. They ignore dozens of positioning variations every day. But they don’t ignore a powerful proposition - especially now.
Image: Robert F

Get beyond the rhetoric of client/agency ‘partnerships’

Get beyond the rhetoric of client/agency ‘partnerships’

Lockdown offers agencies a unique opportunity – not just to define what genuine partnership looks like, but also how to achieve it. (This article first appeared in Campaign) The subject...

Lockdown offers agencies a unique opportunity – not just to define what genuine partnership looks like, but also how to achieve it. (This article first appeared in Campaign) The subject of agencies being partners not suppliers keeps cropping up. Hence Claire Beale’s rallying cry “to move on from the procurer / supplier mentality ...and redefine what a client / agency partnership really looks like" So without downplaying the pandemic, as many clients are now more willing than ever to collaborate, perhaps it’s the perfect time to finally make this happen. 

Defining partnership 

One hurdle is that the word ‘partnership’ is woolly. Agencies often use it as a lazy synonym for respectful relationships. Others argue that partnership resides in value-based pricing.  The latter has more merit, but many agencies confuse value-based pricing with payment-by-results. And even if you can agree on attribution, sharing a slice of risk and reward says more about incentives than partnership. Clearly skin-in-the-game and mutual respect aren’t trivial, but at best they’re symptoms of a partnership, rather than the causes.  So we need to consider where partnerships come from. 

Make yourself scarce

You can’t be a partner when you’re a commodity. That needs solving first.  Competition has expanded. Clients have changed how they buy. The old rules for standout don’t apply anymore. You can’t just rely on culture, your work or a slogan masquerading as a proposition Instead consider your agency’s entire customer experience. Just like brands in their own crowded markets, simply solving a problem isn’t enough; you need to prove it. Everything you say – and do – should serve as proof of the promise you’re making. Every little helps.  Embracing remote working is a case in point. Surely we’re all finally beyond miming inverted commas whenever we say ‘working from home’. That has big implications for talent, process and accountability.  Imagine if a unique model or having bespoke ways of working – like Croud – could help your ideal clients substantiate your proposition. It’s the same for how you price, sell, hire etc. They’re all opportunities to differentiate. And once your value is seen as scarce, genuine partnership can follow. 

Partnership is bespoke

Dreadful though this crisis is, as Uncle Rory argues with typical poise, it’s also a rare opportunity to change. If you want clients to see you as a valued partner – and heaven knows why you wouldn’t – then you need to get beyond the rhetoric.  Partnership is too important to be vague about. It’s too far-reaching to be left to individuals. And it’s too nuanced to just follow the herd.  Now, I appreciate there are plenty of moving parts here, from proposition, pricing and value, to accountability, culture and the future of work. But that’s precisely the point – bespokely joining the dots is where the value lies.  Ask yourself what kind of agency you’d like to become once all this is over. But don’t stop there. Define what ‘partnership’ means, as well as how it benefits you, your people and your clients.  Finally, do yourself justice – embrace the breadth of change required to make it happen.  Lip service is a disservice.
Image: Campaign

Accelerating out of the crisis

Accelerating out of the crisis

Being ready to thrive once the pandemic passes requires decisive action now. But as well as taking the right decisions, how can you make sure that change sticks? With forethought,...

Being ready to thrive once the pandemic passes requires decisive action now. But as well as taking the right decisions, how can you make sure that change sticks? With forethought, determination and luck, you’ve weathered the immediate crisis and emerged ready for the next phase - getting back to growth.  But in an uncertain market, how can you ramp-up revenue and profit by taking a more progressive, agency-wide approach to differentiation? As ever, the devil’s in the detail. 

Realigning for growth

Modern agency growth requires some reprogramming. And now is the perfect time to bin old-fashioned habits like conflating positioning with propositions or assuming pitching is the best way to grow.  This demands a more deliberate, business-wide connection between strategy and tactics. The smart decisions you take now will be wasted without relentless execution.  So you may need to realign your strategy, marketing and sales, plus roles, responsibilities and metrics, as well as structures, process and pricing. Also remember the drivers of change - from culture and behaviours, to mindsets and confidence - all in a WFH world.  And don’t forget your own headspace. Pulled in different directions at the best of times, having new worries and fears right now is natural - as is feeling unable to share them with colleagues. Perhaps you’re exhausted, but can’t allow the cracks to show? Or maybe you’re taking on too much of the burden yourself?  Regardless of where you start optimising for growth, even if you don’t need wholesale change, the nuances matter. 

Choose the right perspective

Getting good advice will accelerate your progress. So embrace your mentors, peers and networks - especially now that their experience and objectivity are so necessary.  Even just saying your challenges out loud will organise your thoughts and lead to better decisions. And a timely observation or suggestion from someone outside your personal vortex can be game-changing.  If you’re lacking an outside perspective, you have a range of options. But choose wisely, because compromise may be required. 
  • Many good advisors lack experience with modern agencies of different sizes, disciplines and life-stages 
  • Consider the breadth, depth and bespokeness of growth advice - NEDs often maintain a distance, mentors are less operational, Business Development consultants have a single focus 
  • Most require a hefty investment and long-term commitment.
These distinctions matter. Not only is every agency different, but also CEOs and Founders need different advice at different times for different reasons.  No wonder that on any given day, you might need a blend of consulting, coaching and mentoring. From shaping strategy to crafting that critical email; setting priorities to getting buy-in; handling bad news to making a plan.  And it shouldn’t cost the Earth to have someone to call.  Co:definery’s Growth Advisory Service is designed around these nuances - and to realise a significant new opportunity for growth. 

Differentiate through customer experience

The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated changes in how clients buy. They’re facing new problems with less money and higher risk.  This creates an opportunity, but only if your agency can adapt. For example: 
  • Make the brief, don’t take the brief
  • Help don’t sell
  • People don’t buy people, they buy experts
  • Being easy to buy is paramount, but ‘land-and-expand’ can hold you back. 
This progressive approach to differentiation may not be news to you, but it’s moved from important to critical.  So how can you make these changes quickly? By considering your agency’s entire customer experience.  Just like brands, simply stating your case isn’t enough; you need to prove it. Once you’re clear on the promise you’re making to clients, everything you say - and do - should serve as proof. 

Create your roadmap 

Now more than ever, expertise defines your market, but it’s your provenance that drives revenue. Co:definery’s Growth Advisory Service is based on our Agency CX Roadmap - a process for embedding your provenance into every aspect of your business.  With this roadmap in place, agency leaders can: 
  • Validate strategy and define priority changes
  • Implement at the right speed and make change stick
  • Address the psychological, operational and cultural hurdles to growth
  • Accelerate change with proven frameworks, designed for agencies to adapt.
Co:definery’s Growth Advisory Service offers business-wide guidance for growth, designed around you and delivered where you need it most. 

Your personal trainer for growth

To thrive as the market recovers decisive action now. But focusing on a grand pivot or tactical tweaks won’t optimise growth. And one-size-fits-all advice won’t help you connect the two.  Agencies are people businesses. Although they often face similar challenges, every solution is unique. There is no ‘average’, ‘ASAP’ is too slow and ‘best practice’ sets the bar too low.  Both big picture and hands-on, Co:definery’s Growth Advisory Service is like having a personal trainer. You get bespoke guidance combined with accountability for change.  It’s delivered remotely via tailored three-month sprints and month one is offered with a money-back guarantee.  To find out more, get in touch.
Image: Tim Gouw

Should you be doing New-Business right now?

Should you be doing New-Business right now?

If there’s a single secret to winning new-business, it’s empathy. And now’s the perfect time to be more client-centric and do the right thing. Without downplaying the severity of the...

If there’s a single secret to winning new-business, it’s empathy. And now’s the perfect time to be more client-centric and do the right thing. Without downplaying the severity of the COVID-19 crisis, keeping spirits up is important. So I was heartened by some reassuringly British piss-taking on the socials; a friend sarcastically praised the heavens for finally finding that ‘guide to working from home’ that we’ve all been sorely lacking.  In fairness, the agency that produced it was probably well-meaning, if a little late to the party.  It’s certainly way more defensible than idiots failing to switch off their automated spam sequences (‘Hi Robin, I know you’ve ignored my first five emails, but who at Co:definery is responsible for sock purchase and sock repair?’).  And of course the COVID-crassness award must be reserved for any tone-deaf bellends trying to self-servingly newsjack the horror. No, I don’t want to read ‘why a pandemic is the perfect time to invest in branded pens’.  Anyway, all this highlights an important question for agencies - how should you be doing new-business right now? 

A risky time to sell 

There’s a fine line between welcome help and unsavoury opportunism. And given that we’re all a bit frazzled, if even slightly badly expressed, a genuine motive can easily be misconstrued.  So the stakes are high, with plenty of jeopardy. Looking like an arse is one thing, but it’s far worse to add yet more stress to another human being.  That’s why my best advice is to pause and reflect. Ask yourself if you’re truly helping. Do you have genuine permission and authority to offer this? Would you welcome your approach if you were in your prospect’s shoes? Measure twice, cut once. 

Have permission to help 

The easy win here is relevance. Stuck at home, we’re all doubly dependent on Ocado, Amazon, Netflix etc. And it’s the same in business - unprecedented times are creating acute demands.  So if you have authority to help, then do it - just choose your words carefully.  Good examples I’ve seen include leadership mentoring, free resources for performance coaching and guidance on making complex decisions This movie matchmaking service is another empathetic idea that meets simple human needs - be that combating loneliness or just entertaining your kids.  Another practical tip is to start with your current clients. It’s a great opportunity - not just to be useful, but also to learn how to be useful.  They already trust you, there’s rapport in place and you know their priorities. So as well as being at less risk of being misinterpreted, you can also offer softer support.  But don’t email - give them a ring. 

Running a remote pitch

Another question I’m being asked is how to run a pitch when the world’s in lockdown. If you’re lucky and demand remains, then this is a great problem to have.  Firstly, remember that the principles of mobilising, briefing and rehearsing your team haven’t changed. Your existing process, milestones and performance indicators still apply.  Of course you’ll need to make nuanced changes. Developing your response and, in particular, discussing subjective feedback will take longer when you’re not face to face. Lacking so much body language means you should check and double-check that your precise intention has come across.  As George Bernard Shaw said, ‘the single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place’.

Presenting in unfamiliar conditions 

When it comes to pitch day, there are obvious challenges. For example, reading the room is way trickier via video conference. Even knowing who’s speaking can be a challenge, depending on the software in play - especially if you’re suddenly having to use the client’s platform (pro-tip: don’t).  So the old cliché of ‘failing to prepare means preparing to fail’ has never been more true. You’d like to think the client would forgive some clunkiness, but anticipate and prepare like never before.  Case in point, rehearse like mad. Do a dry run with a remote audience. Think about stage management. Who’s handling client questions? How will you avoid multiple voices weighing in and a cacophony of ‘no-sorry-after-yous’?  Appoint someone to lead on the new playing conditions. It’s their job to learn how remote presentation experts do it. Adopting a few novel gestures and conventions could differentiate your pitch, remove awkwardness and help you perform well.  

How to NOT pitch remotely 

Beyond the practicalities of running a WFH pitch process, don’t forget that it’s still one big diagnostic. The client’s weighing you up and you’re assessing them too - not least to infer your chances of success.  For example, walking away when you’re not going to win is something few agencies find easy. We’ve all heard the immortal line ‘I know we won’t win, but we’ve come this far…’. Now is the perfect time to develop this skill.  Yes, a win would be doubly valuable right now. But there’s also more risk. From protecting fragile morale, to the unique opportunity cost of wasting this relatively free time, think extra hard about whether the client is serious - about the process, but particularly about your agency.  Ring them. Will they take your call? Are they definitely going ahead with the work? How clearly can they articulate your potential fit? Are they willing to discuss adaptations to the process, like extending deadlines or adopting different formats?  This kind of probing should already be second nature, but if you’re ever going to raise your threshold for agreeing to competitive pitching, then do it now. 

Use your time well 

I mentioned time - all of a sudden, it’s at far less of a premium. Many of us haven't been this unburdened by deadlines since…. ever.  It’s a massive opportunity to invest in your future, nurture your soul and do some good.  What’s that article you’ve been meaning to write? Maybe finish reading that business book? Perhaps finally plan that thought leadership initiative?  Can you support your local pub like Lucky Generals? Maybe set-up a WhatsApp group to tell your neighbours when Sainsbury’s have got eggs in.  It sounds trite, but get a hobby. Don’t sit hunched over your screen fretting 24/7 - I’ve just started drawing again for the first time in 30 years (am no better, sadly).  Help your fellow agency leaders too. The likes of Agency Hackers, MAAG, BIMA and Agency Collective are facilitating free-of-charge spaces where agency communities can talk, joke, commiserate, learn and share.  None of this is rocket science, but it’s all productive. And more importantly, it will help you adapt to the new normal when we get past the immediate crisis. 

Selling is helping 

For now, obviously the most important thing is everyone’s health. And hopefully the Government’s measures will help us all weather the economic storm.  But at the same time, despite these unprecedented (definitely word of the year) events, you can keep the sales and marketing engine running - as long as you proceed with caution.  By picking up the phone, carefully testing your offer and maintaining a complete focus on your audience’s needs, you can - and should - keep on ‘selling’.  And once this crisis passes, perhaps agencies will realise two things - firstly, in difficult times, selling is helping. And secondly, it always was.  Of course being compelling and persuasive is important, but fundamentally you’re just helping get clients from A to B. And that is built on empathy.  So good luck for now. And if you want to stick the kettle on and call for a natter, just shout. I’ve got a brilliant guide to remote working that I can share.
Image: Medical News Today

Going ‘niche’ is a duff steer

Going ‘niche’ is a duff steer

Becoming more focused is transformational for your agency, but narrow application of words like ‘niche’ and ‘specialise’ can cause all sorts of trouble. The Bee Gees sang ‘It's only...

Becoming more focused is transformational for your agency, but narrow application of words like ‘niche’ and ‘specialise’ can cause all sorts of trouble. The Bee Gees sang ‘It's only words. And words are all I have’. Despite their wonky grammar, when it comes to the importance of words, the brothers Gibb were spot-on.  They were almost certainly singing about the modern malaise of agencies saying much the same thing using much the same words.  Hence so many Founders and CEOs looking to stand out by specialising. But why is this transition so tricky?  The answer is words - the language of specialisation is too loaded and too simple. 

The problem with ’niche’ 

Suggesting ‘niche’ to an agency chief often elicits wide eyes, raised eyebrows and - one assumes - clenched buttocks. But ‘niche’ means ‘small’, they protest; that’s not the road to riches.  They also tend to overestimate the sacrifice needed to ‘specialise’, assuming they’d have to bin half their clients and - worse - half their team.  So why the knee-jerk terror? 

What specialisation means

The specialisation debate is usually based on a fairly obvious Boston matrix: The four quadrants are:
  • Generalist: selling a range of services to everyone - often ‘integrated’ or ‘full-service’ agencies
  • Vertical specialist: selling a range of services into a single sector
  • Horizontal specialist: selling a single discipline to everyone
  • Full specialist: selling a single discipline into a single sector.
First of all, none of these are wrong. And despite the success of plenty of generalists - many of whom, it has to be said, succeed in spite of their generalism - let’s accept the implied hierarchy that the more specialised you are, the better.  But - and it’s a big but (and I cannot lie) - there’s a world of nuance that gets lost in the language. I’ll come back to that.  For now, let’s look at the three types of specialist. 

In praise of vertical positioning 

Vertical positioning is offering a range of services to a discrete audience, i.e. every-thing for some-one. It’s usually defined by industry sector - like finance, healthcare or travel. Think Digital Dialog or DDB Health Happily, vertical audiences are easy to reach via dedicated media, awards, trade shows etc. They often use specific jargon too, so you can ‘show them you know them’ with your industry language. Vertical specialists can be highly prized; making better margins and being easier for your clients to take with them as they change jobs within their sector. Your specialism helps them avoid being seen to be hiring their mates. Despite all this, most agencies don’t position themselves vertically. It feels boring or limiting. They make the same argument against in-housing - looking at the same problems every day surely kills innovation and repels talent.  So what about horizontal positioning? 

Let’s get horizontal, baby 

This is about offering one thing to a broad audience. It’s where most agencies end up - discipline specialists open to any client, like Sunday (content marketing) or every ad agency in the universe.  Clearly the variety is attractive and you’re less likely to come unstuck if the bottom falls out of your specific market sector.  Better still if you’re a leader in an emerging discipline. Imagine being into web design in the 90s, social media in the 2000s or service design since 2010. Ch-ching! Ditto these days for specialists in, say, developing Alexa Skills.  On the flipside, you lose the vertical benefits. For one, it’s harder to command a premium. And without a readymade audience and deep sector-specific knowledge, demonstrating expertise to new clients relies even more on thought leadership.  No wonder horizontally aligned (and generalist) agencies are so quick to shout about their ‘sector experience’. But really, you’re damning yourself with faint praise. It’s not a differentiator; it’s barely table stakes. You’re better off trading on your fresh eyes, objectivity or the applicability of proven thinking from another sector. 

Best of both worlds

The final quadrant combines vertical and horizontal, i.e. a specific discipline for a single sector, like Editions Financial or Taste PR. Surely this is the best of both worlds? Maybe.  On the face of it, combining the benefits makes a lot of sense - especially if you’re unknown, so your depth of knowledge mitigates your lack of badge value. Knowing their sector and a discipline can also make clients more forgiving of conflict. But the risk here is going too deep. There may well be a gap in the market, but is there a market in the gap?  Perhaps you’re a Magento expert for greetings card companies. Even if that’s in real demand, what happens when you’ve re-platformed them all?  It takes courage to focus, but don’t be reckless.

Why positioning is still a headache

So, four options - you pay your money and take your choice, right?  Well, no.  All this theory is fine. But if it’s as easy as deciding on either or both vertical and horizontal, then why do so many agencies waste years trying to resolve the question?  As mentioned, it’s because we’re glossing over a tonne of nuance.  Most obviously, the boundaries between ‘horizontal’ agency disciplines are getting blurrier every day. Also, a vertical sector, like the greetings card example, can be big or small. So targeting ‘B2B’ vs. ‘dry cleaners in Staines’ is a completely different business model.  In fact, ‘vertical’ doesn’t even have to mean ‘sector’. It might be company size, age, culture, mindset, geography, budget or anything. It’s better to think ‘audience’ rather than ‘industry’. Similarly, ‘horizontal’ doesn’t have to be an agency discipline. You could address a specific use case or problem, like inertia, a competitive threat or operating in regulated markets. So focus less on services and more on outcome and proposition. Most importantly, broadening your definitions of vertical and horizontal mean they're no longer mutually exclusive. For instance, ‘companies that need international growth’ is both an audience and a problem to solve.  Likewise, does helping clients target a 50+ audience make Older vertically positioned for those companies or horizontally aligned because reaching those people is the outcome? For these reasons, take a more modern, client-centric view on how your positioning and proposition work together. Discipline still matters, but focusing on an audience and adding an outcome changes the game. 

Become a beacon

Most agencies understand that these nuances make specialisation harder than it sounds. The trick is to understand the interplay, resolve it quickly and commit to your decision. Remember, this isn’t packaging; it’s deciding what business you’re in. But once you expand your definitions, the world opens up. As long as you can demonstrate it, you can claim any expertise you want.  Your target audience can be big or small, niche or mass market. You can be a beacon for anyone with that need.  As long as there are enough of those people, with deep enough pockets to support your chosen commercial model, then all the benefits of specialisation can be yours - including genuine standout, as well as faster sales and higher profits And in a competitive market, this could be the difference between falling flat and Stayin’ Alive. 
Image: My IELTS Classroom

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