An Open Letter to Agencies: There’s enough for everyone.
Ah, #agencylife. We’ve been taught to compete, create spec work, pitch against one another. There are a lot of us, and We- Are- Hustling for that next project, client, pitch. But I want to introduce a radical idea: what if there is enough for everyone? What if we should be shifting our focus from “winning the client” to “creating the best partnerships?”
I run a branding agency specializing in food and beverage. There are a bunch of us– agencies in the food/bev space who create breakthrough brands and design awesome packaging; do a quick audit of the space and you’ll see lots of agencies with similar virtues.
Last year, I had an eye-opening experience. I was at an industry conference, ripe with food and beverage brands who needed our services. On the first day I spoke at an educational event and afterwards connected with a really nice entrepreneur looking for an agency like mine to help design her branding and packaging. We had a great conversation and ended with promises to keep in touch about her project. The next day, I was at a networking party and I saw her again. She was quick to tell me that “those guys” (pointing at two principals from another agency very similar to mine) had specifically pulled her aside, and told her that I don’t know what I’m doing, and they could do it better.
At first I was pissed. How dare they badmouth me! I was about to shoot back an insult of my own, when I looked across the massive crowd full of potential clients and was struck by how obvious it was: there is enough for everyone.
Let me pause here and say, I have nothing but respect for this other (not-to-be-named) agency. They do really great work. Honestly, they were just doing what we’ve all been trained to do: whatever it takes to win. As many agencies do, they were operating from a place of scarcity.
I’ve done this myself, of course. I’ve worked in this industry my entire career and I can’t deny the thrill of winning a pitch. In the early days, I’d sometimes find myself saying negative things about another agency in an attempt to be seen more favorably (P.S. this strategy just made me look bad). I have won clients, I have lost clients. I have pitched spec concepts just to have them later executed by another agency. I have been asked to do free work, conduct free research and “consult” to win a bid. Sh*t happens.
But when I shift my thinking from one night stand to long-term relationship I get less upset over losing a job that wasn’t the right fit anyway.
So here’s our agency’s strategy: instead of fighting for EVERY client, we want to partner with the best FIT for us. The clients with whom we can effectively collaborate; the clients who want to be pushed a little; the clients who don’t mind over-the-top enthusiasm and an occasional curse word.
The next time you’re at Expo West, I urge you to scan the room. Look at the thousands of brands out there, and tell me why it’s necessary to win their business by bad-mouthing, judging, or being negative. There IS enough for everyone. And we really don’t have to be jerks about it. How about instead of “winning” we all focus on creating effective partnerships. Maybe instead of seeking the thrill of beating-out another agency, we focus our energy on the thrill of creating meaningful, connective relationships; I mean, we’re all in the business of connecting brands with the people who will love them.