By Tim Williams, Ignition Consulting Group


Somewhere in the notes from last summer’s offsite agency planning meeting, do you have a statement similar to any of these?

“Our mission is to become the most sought-after agency in the region, attracting clients who appreciate the power of big ideas.”

“We will be known as one of the top agencies in America, known for leading-edge solutions to client marketing problems.”
“Within the next five years, we will be one of the most recognized agency names, with a reputation for both outstanding work and outstanding client relationships.”

If any of these objectives have the ring of familiarity, it’s because they represent the default “mission” of many firms, especially when they’re engaged in thinking about a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal).

To become one of the most respected agencies in the country isn’t a bad objective, but it is after all just that: an objective.   It is not a strategy.  An objective points the way, but it takes an effective strategy to get you there.

If “one of the country’s top agencies” is a common objective, guess what a common strategy is?  It can often be boiled down into four words: “To be the best.”  Problem is, that isn’t a strategy either; it’s just another objective.

Your best isn’t good enough

The point is, “excellence” is not a strategy.  Do you think the great battles in history were won based on a strategy of excellence?  Telling your troops to “Do your best” isn’t much help if your opponent has better arms and fortifications.  What’s needed in a scenario like that is literally a strategy or “positioning.”  Upon defeating Napoleon at Waterloo, Lord Nelson remarked, “When you’re positioned correctly, you can win the battle before you fight.”

A strategy – or a positioning – means deciding not just what you are, but what you aren’t.  Not just what you do, but what you don’t do.  A strategy is ultimately about trade-offs.  You can’t offer every kind of service to every kind of client.

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When you say that your strategy is to be the best, the best-known, the most creative, the most respected, your strategy is not what you say it is.  Your strategy is not what you say, but what you do.  Your real strategy is not in your planning documents, but in your website, your new business presentations, your social media program, and your training and career development program.

You can say you want to be one of the most differentiated agency brands in the county, but unless your actual business strategy is based on a strong point of differentiation, you’re never going to get there.

Your agency strategy exists out in the marketplace

By definition, being different means that you won’t target the same clients as other agencies; you won’t offer the same services; you won’t hire the same kind of people; and you won’t say the same kinds of things on your website.

Your strategy doesn’t exist in a conference room; it exists out there in the marketplace, where prospective clients are attempting to distinguish one agency from another.  If you really do believe in being different, then be different in every aspect you can think of.  Your strategy isn’t about saying, but doing.