How the agency business trains us for anything
I recently invited a friend (Bill) and author of a new ‘How To’ business book to come speak to my agency, and share insights from his marvelously successful career. After I read his book, much of the advice resonated with me and applied to the marketing services industry as well.
The event was well attended and interactive. My team peppered Bill with questions and—at one point—he looked at me for an answer. It’s not that the question was so hard; the situation it painted was.
Afterwards, Bill turned to me and said, “Man, are you in a tough business!”
To which I replied, “Maybe, but it’s all I know. I was born into the PR/agency business. It’s perfect for me.”
But his comment got me thinking: is the agency business really that much more difficult than other businesses? And if so, does that also mean agency veterans are not just survivors, but well-versed to thrive in any environment? (Cue Sinatra, “If I can make it here, I can make it anywhere…”)
So I made a short list of skills that agency professionals have that are unique to our industry and make us more valuable in business and our personal lives:
Masters of Multi-tasking: we juggle a lot--communicating with colleagues and clients; gathering research; analyzing data and insights; stating a critical point-of-view; massaging internal egos; and meeting deadlines are just a few of the tasks we learn to navigate. Think of how that also applies at home with your family.
Stay Calm and Carry On: I’m willing to wager that agency folks handle pressure better than any other industry. Pressure from inside to nail the right idea. Pressure from outside, with clients demanding attentive service and great results. Pressure from vendors who may or may not deliver what we need, when we need it. Pressure from owners and investors who demand higher margins in a business of shrinking margins. Pressure from home, as agency hours are typically long and often move into the weekend. After three decades in the agency business, there are few things that rattle my cage at work or home.
Living on the Edge: a fact in the agency business is that we can lose a client suddenly. Reasons are many: company is sold; CMO is fired and replaced with a new CMO that replaces the agency; client revenues are down; or the agency work just doesn’t work. We live with this reality every day, and just have to work hard to earn our keep. I’m often jealous of my peers in other service industries, such as accounting, legal, and consulting, where clients often stay for decades. That’s my dream with our clients!
Who are we?: There are few businesses that change as often as the agency business. A common conversation in our hallways is what to call what we do. I used to run an advertising and public relations firm. Do I still? My friends think so. They call me a ‘PR guy.’ That’s code for they don’t have a clue what I do. My clients think so. They want ideas that move the needle, or shift perceptions. My family thinks so. I’m still the ad guy among the relatives, and the recipient of resumes from their friends of friends of friends who want to be in advertising/PR. Even my employees think so. They describe Brownstein Group as an “Advertising & Public Relations Agency.” But I’m not sure I buy it. Does that description cover digital, social media, content, analytics, short-form video, etc? Thing is, we have to be incredibly nimble—even malleable—to make it in this business that ever evolves.
No Place to Hide: In my father’s Mad Man era, you came up with a cool idea, executed it, took the client out for a liquid lunch or round of golf, and moved on to the next campaign. Today, we measure what we execute, and use the data to optimize results. While that’s a good thing, it keeps every agency employee’s feet to the fire. You’re always accountable. Over time, that can also be exhausting. But we rise each day, and start again!
There’s a saying in the agency business that people can move from the agency side to the client side, but rarely the other way around. Now you can see why. That said, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Truly. I understand Bill’s comment better now, and believe agency people would kick ass in other industries, too (I’m NOT trying to move my Brownstein Group team who are reading this). That’s because we are battle tested and proven. Our professional armor is thick and we are a resilient lot -- a different breed of business warrior.
Sign me up for another tour of duty!
Marc Brownstein is president and chief executive of Brownstein Group. He tweets @MarcBrownstein