Just Say No!
Rule No. 8 — What was the client's approval process? How many people in the loop? Who had final say? Did the work have to pass the brand police? (If the brand police were in the loop, we wouldn't take the work; they kill more good programs than lawyers.) We had to understand the approval process for three reasons. First, a bad approval process can almost guarantee program performance problems. Typically we wanted to address this before we got hired and make approvals easier to get. Second, we would have to plan for longer approval times in our production schedules and, third, we may have to add more money to the fixed-bid budgets to handle additional overhead and re-writes.
So you might ask, how does passing on new business help you grow faster? The answer is clear to me: Morale is higher. By bringing in the right clients, the agency does better work with less effort. Clients then stay around longer, which takes pressure off the entire agency since with longer term clients, agency efficiencies and profits increase, too.
Most agencies have guidelines as far as the kinds of clients they want or the kind of work they want to do. In great part, these are the creative department's Christmas list. These rules go further, helping to define the relationship between the agency and client for the benefit of the account service teams. In addition, these rules align the client's business with the agency business model.
Again, your rules will be different because your business model is different. But the important thing is to have a set of rules in place that keep you from chasing shiny, new things that are bad for you.
Takeaways to Consider
- You can grow an agency faster by saying no to disruptive and/or unprofitable accounts.
- If you take on full margin work, you'll have more resources to invest back in the agency and make it even better in the future.
- The rules should not only reflect the creative department's wish list, they should also support how the agency wants to work and how the agency makes money.
Bob Hacker was founder and CEO of HackerAgency (née The Hacker Group) from 1986 to 2002. Before that, he spent most of his career on the client side, running some of the largest direct marketing accounts on the West Coast at that time. He is a frequent speaker and writer on all things direct. He graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in Advertising and Harvard Business School with a double concentration in Marketing and Entrepreneurship. As his mother often said of him, "Bob is not always right, but never in doubt." Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.