Differentiate your agency on innovation

'Tis the season for budgets and 2010 planning, an anxious, busy time of introspection as well as exploration.

'Tis the season for budgets and 2010 planning, an anxious, busy time of introspection as well as exploration. At PRWeek, we are peppered with questions about the relative status of firms in the PR universe. It is fascinating, and disheartening, to see that agency rankings are still important - even as that old Sarbanes-Oxley interpretation continues to be thrown up as the reason for not breaking out specific agency revenue for the purpose of league tables, or for any other reason.

While I continue to lament the passing of true, all-inclusive rankings, I wonder if we are focusing enough attention on the truly important ideals, some of which are not quantifiable anyway. The truth is that in the past year, under truly dire circumstances, it seems like many agencies are looking more and more alike, and that true differentiation is remarkably elusive. Whether by accident or design, agencies are keen not to be counted out of any opportunities because of a perceived lack of experience in certain areas, or an overabundance of focus on others.

A related view was recently echoed by NextFifteen CEO Tim Dyson in a tweet. “Just looked at over 50 agency websites - I'm worried. They all sound the same - either big strategic and global or small and proactive.”

Are they really the same under the hood? I can tell you that once you get behind the marketing they are not, neither culturally, nor in terms of expertise. But what has happened, since last November, is that the leadership of many firms has hunkered down to get through it, and we now have an innovation void from the top levels.

I can hear you, agency CEO, already saying, “But I'm tweeting! I'm blogging! I've never been more “out there.” That may be true, but as we turn the calendar over it is time to start taking risks again and advancing the big ideas.

There's one way to immediately have an impact, and it might sound crazy. We all know that social media is game changing, and a critical component of all we do. But frankly, it's all anyone wants to talk about anymore. And that's a problem.

Have we truly left everything else behind? Is there really nothing else new out there to take ownership of? I don't believe that is true, and various firms are emerging from the pack by looking at CSR or demographic groups in deeper and more challenging ways. Innovation means constant movement forward. If all you're talking about is Twitter, you're already behind.

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