Agency Doctor: Use January to get your agency into shape

Forget the gym membership - here are a couple of New Year's resolutions to improve the fitness of your business.

Tackle any agency issues with over-servicing in January, advises Richard Houghton
Tackle any agency issues with over-servicing in January, advises Richard Houghton

I gave up on New Year’s resolutions years ago. I like the idea, but the reality is often an unused gym membership or a less than ‘dry’ January.

Research company ComRes reckons that 32 per cent of us make a New Year’s resolution, the majority of which are focused on getting fitter, losing weight or eating more healthily. Not surprisingly, 63 per cent of us break them; 66 per cent of resolutions last just one month.

But while your waistline may not be getting smaller, there is no reason why you shouldn’t give your agency a fillip by committing to a couple of practical and deliverable New Year’s resolutions.

One neat, overarching resolution could be to reduce over-servicing by five to 10 per cent across the business, bringing the associated increase in fees and margin and reduction in team churn.

A quick review of which of your client programmes has measurable objectives is not a time-consuming exercise, and is a good place to start. If you find that the objectives are broad – raising awareness, for example – and have no agreed evaluation criteria, you have the recipe for over-servicing, lower margins and long working hours for your team.

Once you understand how you will measure success, your teams can identify which activities will help deliver the objectives, and which won’t. This gives them a platform to have those difficult conversations when the client asks: "Could you just…?" or "It would be really helpful if you could…".

The second good habit that helps address over-servicing is producing a standard briefing template for all pitches – project or retainer. Once you have a clear and agreed brief, even if the prospect or client won’t sign it off, you know that the entire team is working from the same information and toward the same goal. It reduces duplication and really helps to ensure that your great creative ideas are on-strategy.

Alongside the briefing form, I would suggest you develop a standard budgeting template that allows you to make sure you are not promising more than the client budget allows for – and, of course, that you have the capacity to do the work. While we are on the subject, I would avoid pitching without a budget, unless you feel you have no alternative. My experience is that those who don’t share a pitch budget are those with the biggest expectations and the shallowest pockets.

You could also organise negotiation training for your account-handlers. It makes for tougher personnel reviews, but if you want to consult to clients rather than be an agency carrying out orders, you need to be able to fight your corner.

All this will require a change of attitude from your agency team and so it is critical that you lead from the front. Explain to them how things are going to change, delegate responsibility, support and mentor. You will also need to avoid the temptation to get the team to help out your favourite client for free – we want to make sure that these resolutions stick.

Richard Houghton is a business consultant:

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