Starve the problems, feed the opportunities.
As the year kicked off, we saw lots of items about thinking forward— instead of looking backward at missed objectives, or only considering current problems, looking ahead toward opportunities and goals.
Dan Heath has a new book, called Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, in which he talks about getting “stuck in a cycle of response,” putting out fires and dealing with whatever current emergency we’re facing. His book addresses ways to break that cycle and refocus on preventing problems before they become emergencies. It’s an ideal mindset for ad agencies seeking inspiration to pursue long-term business plans for clients. It is obviously also a great mindset for helping clients break away from reactive marketing and take charge of their strategy.
Tim Williams of Ignition Consulting Group blogged about why agencies stall and begin to underperform. He points out that agencies can drift into being reactive—waiting for assignments instead of proposing them, and generally allowing the winds of clients whims to steer the agency ship. He says agencies need to shift away from problem-solving to asking, “What is the opportunity?” This extends to building accounts into long-term relationships and identifying problems new business prospects haven’t yet recognized. If you’re not asking “what is possible,” you’re not being proactive enough to keep growing your agency.
The culture mavens at GapingVoid sent an email about “creating yourself” instead of “finding yourself.” The latter allows the past to control you; but inventing or building toward goals allows you to control the future.
Capitalizing on Uncertainty
In addition to all of these “plan positive” discussions, we also saw the flip side—warnings about economic uncertainty, trade tensions, market fluctuations around the coronavirus outbreak, Brexit, the unstable U.S. political environment, new regulatory challenges, the impacts of climate change, and more. Strategy+Business shared tips for successfully navigating “uncertain times.” Uncertainty, say the authors, can cause business leaders to shift to a defensive posture… and that can be the exact opposite of the best strategy. No less a prognosticator than economist John Maynard Keynes called this defensive posture the paradox of thrift—pulling back on the reins of investment, marketing, hiring, et. al., when the economy is already slowing down actually “reduces demand and makes everyone poorer.”
Instead, businesses should prepare for changes and work to capitalize on uncertainty—to look for ways to exploit opportunities presented by competitors who opt for the obvious strategy of cutting spending and retrenching in all areas of their business. They should also work hard to achieve agility—the ability to turn on a dime, reset and adapt on the fly—and resilience—the ability to recover from blows and setbacks, and continue to push toward long-term goals.
It looks like the power of positivity—and planning—rules the hour.
Review and Update Your Business Plan
If you haven’t already updated your ad agency business plan, now is the time to do so. Pull out last year’s plan and review to see how you did, then set goals and objectives for the coming year. Adjust longer-term plans accordingly. Work in changes based on new data and needs.
Your business plan is the touchstone for every decision you will make this year, as well as the target on the horizon for you and your team to shoot at. A good business plan deters you from making knee-jerk decisions, or simply reacting in the moment. For every challenge and opportunity you face, the plan is your guide to taking a more rational, thoughtful approach to every move you make.
If you don’t have a plan, start working on one right now.
Is Your Ad Agency in a Winning Position?
As an addendum to taking a positive, proactive approach to your business strategy, we share thoughts from performance management consultant Robert Glazer’s Friday Forward blog.
Glazer says that to put your agency in a position to achieve success, you must take advantage of opportunities. You do this through business planning and strategy. Following are Glazer’s five universal principles for building an agency positioned to win:
- Build the Right Team. Shared values, vision and trust, and positive energy lift a good team to greatness.
- Practice More. Develop presentation skills as a core strength.
- Maintain Flexibility and Discipline. Make a plan and work the plan. Break from the plan only when an opportunity is so good, it can’t be passed up. (Your agency’s ability to pivot depends on stability and skill sets—build both.)
- Stay Healthy. Strive to adopt good work/life balance, good nutrition, regular exercise, and good rest habits. Take vacation. Build think time into your workweek. Feeling 100% helps you perform at 100%. That applies not just to the leaders, but every member of the team.
- Focus. What is most important? Set goals and steer everything toward achieving those goals. Focused energy tends to improve success. Avoid distractions or divided focus. Build on core strengths of your people. Also, focus your skills, experience and knowledge; core competencies help you carve out a distinct niche. Be known for doing specific things really well.
In business, you need a positive outlook—supported by confidence, conviction and good leadership skills—and a sound plan to help you push forward through or around challenges. Add to these a sharp eye for opportunity, and your future will be less fraught during uncertain times. Prepare now so you are ready for whatever may be coming. Onward!