History is full of industry leaders and business pioneers who have become irrelevant because they failed to innovate and evolve. Maybe it is the result of conservative cultures, poor leadership, a lack of will and vision, or the systematic inertia that builds from years of complacency. Or, possibly, they were just afraid. People fear the unknown. They resist taking the bold and decisive actions that are needed to survive because they do not want to fail.
However, we learn from failure. It builds character, teaches us humility, shows us how to cope with adversity, and challenges us to continually test, revise, and improve. Marketing agencies are no different. Agency leaders become comfortable in their positions. They learn to ignore their instincts for change, instead favoring status quo. They make decisions to avoid short-term risk and pain, often to the detriment of their agencies’ long-term viability. Even worse, this tentativeness trickles down to employees and carries over into client campaigns.
Marketing agencies must take action to survive and thrive in the new ecosystem. They have to make difficult choices to break from traditional agency-centric pricing models, invest in technology, recruit and retain hybrid professionals, build scalable infrastructure takes, and transform their services. They have to be willing to make mistakes. They have to embrace failure.
The disruptor advantage
The unknown is one of the most exciting things about being an entrepreneur. It is the adrenaline rush that comes from taking Chances and venturing down the road less traveled. That is the disruptor agency advantage. These organizations, by their very nature, are risk takers. They thrive on change, easily tire of tradition, and pride themselves on their agility. These emerging firms have less to lose than their larger, more conservative competitors.
They are building new, hybrid agency models from the ground up. They do not have the restrictions of legace systems or the internal politics that hinder change. They have flexibility in their pricing, lower overhead costs, and more dynamic and versatile talent. Disruptors need to be willing to take risks the established agencies cannot or will not. While traditionalists try to fix their models, you should be focused on continually reinventing yours. Never hesitate to head in a direction that others seem to fear.
The traditionalist opportunity
I have watched some incredibly talented traditional firms fade or disappear in the last decade because they continued to do what was farmilliard. While revenues fell, and their staffs slowly churned, they would just put their heads down and keep grinding. Rather than getting to the root of the problem—a broken model—they would raise billable-hour rates, form a few strategic partnerships, and reach out to the same tired networks on which they built their firms. Many of them suffered from what I call the Frodo syndrome.
In the 2001 classic movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Frodo Baggins, beaten down and scared, confides in Gandalf, “I wish none of this had happened.” To which Gandalf, in his wizardry wisdom, replies, “So do all who live to see such times, but that K K 186 THE MARKETING AGENCY BLUEPRINT C09 is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”