August 07, 2013

Do A Few Things Well

I would like to suggest a new strategy for your agency: Do a few things well.

You are trying to do too much. As a result, you are mediocre at a lot of things and excellent at nothing.

You are becoming like government. People used to have confidence that government was competent and effective. Now 10% of the population has confidence in Congress and about 1/3 have confidence in the executive branch.

To me, the reasons are very clear. Government used to do a few things well. They paved the roads, they put out fires, they educated our kids, and they protected us against criminals. Now they do none of these thing well.

They are too busy with other things. They want to tell us how much soda we can drink and who we can sleep with. They're busy monitoring our emails and legislating our reproductive lives.

They are over-reaching and, consequently, under-performing. Just as you are.

It's for time for you to decide who you are and what you do. It is unrealistic to expect that you can excel at traditional advertising and technology and data and social media and shopper marketing and PR and direct response and search and... and all the other disciplines that make up the complex web of activities that marketing has become.

If you're an agency, do a few things well. Make great spots, or build great platforms, or design great websites. But don't pretend you can do it all. You can't. You can't play first base and pitch and do the play-by-play. It just doesn't work like that.

It is very hard for an agency to say no. It is very hard to say, "we don't do that." One of the chuckles I've always gotten from agencies is that the smaller they are, the more they say they can do.

Go to a 12-person agency's websites and you'll find that they do advertising, branding, PR, interactive, social media, design, and on and on.

According to a study reported by Marketing Week, 78% of CEOs do not trust their advertising and media agencies to create effective campaigns. This is not good.

Part of the problem is people pretending to be good at things they are not good at.

It's a lot easier to do many things poorly than a few things well. Don't be that agency.


Kreig Zimmerman said...

Sage advice in general. Multi-tasker, REPENT!

Stefano said...

Aside from the fact that government today does poorly pretty much the same things that it was doing well 50 years ago, or actually fewer of them, how would you explain BBH and Droga, who do many different things very well, or CP+B at its peak, who used to do the same?
It may just be a simple case of the golden rule: 99% of everything is shit. 99% of versatile agencies are shit. 99% of specialist agencies are shit.

In light of that, 78% of CEOs not trusting their agencies is even an optimistic figure...

Cecil B. DeMille said...

I don't think agency size or focus has anything to do with it. Advertising is all about ideas, which come from people. The right people generally will produce the right ideas and success will be had. Hooray.

I also worry that specialization doesn't equate to quality of product. McDonald's serves a zillion hamburgers a week. Shitty hamburgers. That's their specialty. A mom and pop restaurant may not have a specialty, but the odds are that the food will be a damn sight better. The dish isn't the salient point. Knowing how to cook is.

Focus on the result and then follow it back to its roots. Concluding with the agency's size or specialty is like stopping half way round a revolving door.

I know you said that agencies should focus on things they did well, and in that you're right. I just worry that your message was buried

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Neil Cowan said...

Unlike Cecil B. I think the 'message' was pretty damn clear. And verywell made. Truly.

gyorgy said...


patrickstrother said...

I normally agree with you, but you have missed the mark by quite a bit with this post.

Right off the bat, there are two entire markets you're missing with this

The first is there are thousands and thousands of emerging and middle market companies in America, many of them B2B oriented, that are looking for a full external marketing resource. They typically have one or two people coordinating their marketing and want one small agency to handle all the external marketing for them. I've billed millions of dollars to this emerging segment and helped many of them successfully grow from start-up or small to very successful enterprises.

Secondly, many markets want a specific external specialty that trumps the silo mentality of products and services they offer. For example, medical device companies want an agency that specializes in medical devices, not traditional advertising or PR or social media, direct response, search and so on. So the specialty in this case is a market focus, not a product focus. Food, agriculture, certain tech, lots of B2B and many others share this perspective.

The other point that is ignored is that it is indeed possible to specialize
in marketing integration. Being able to successfully combine (optimize) an array of services for a B2B or middle market business adds tremendous value, and can lower marketing cost by 20 to 30%. At least that is our experience the past 21 years.

One of my big complaints about teaching advertising and PR the past 30 years is that the cases are generally big companies with huge budgets. That's not actually the real world. There is a huge market out there for small agencies skillful in delivering a wide enough range of services to be considered an external marketing “department”. These budgets are generally $100,000 at a time, not a million at a time but nonetheless, it's a very rewarding segment to serve because you can make a real difference.

We have a number of these types of clients we have grown with for over 15 years, mainly because we understood their business and market so well, now no one specialty agency could possibly serve them better.