Four Steps Agencies Can Take to Safeguard Their Most Prized Asset
by Jay Haines
The flurry of media reviews over the past several months, ominously referred to as "reviewmaggedon," has thrown agencies into a state of flux as they scramble to keep accounts and win what's up for grabs.
And while it's understandable, perhaps even necessary, for brands to recalibrate their strategy in light of today's complex and often bewildering media environment, this presents agencies with a set of challenges. The obvious repercussion is difficulty in simultaneously preparing for and winning pitches, while continuing to produce stellar results for existing clients. The solution to this conundrum lies within yet another, unspoken challenge -- attracting, and most importantly, keeping the best staff possible.
While agencies fight for survival, staffing up with top talent with a big-picture grasp on the rapidly changing media and technology landscape is crucial. Yet with much additional work to be done, coupled with uncertainty in the day-to-day of agency life, top talent engaged in the throes of pitching are at risk of creative burnout, or worse -- being driven to seemingly calmer waters outside the agency grind.
How can agencies win all that business while both safeguarding and shoring up their talent pool for the inevitable ramifications of pitch mode? Here are four steps:
1. Be "creative" as you cast your pitch.
Pitches often call for all-hands-on-deck and can be chaotic and unorganized. Instead of resorting to a scramble that takes a toll on your staff, take the time to cast your pitch -- ask yourself questions like, "Is someone within my agency going to run this pitch? Or do we need to call in extra help?" If you do need extra help, don't be afraid to get creative -- literally. Many smart media agencies are actually hiring creatives to bring an entirely fresh perspective to pitches, and demand for freelancers specifically for this purpose is rising. Understand that you can and should find talent for pitches in unexpected places, and that it will pay off in the end.
2. Pipeline and plan ahead for after the pitch.
Your post-pitch staffing plan is just as important. Before you pitch, start building a framework for what might happen after the win. While researching, prepare a market map of the category-specific skills you'll need to service the client -- no matter what vertical. The price for that vertical-specific talent is high, and gathering intelligence now is critical. Once you've targeted potential new employees, contract them conditionally. This way, you'll be ready to hit the ground running if new work comes your way, without sacrificing the resources you need to keep your existing clients happy. Your current staff will also feel relieved during the pitch to know that their workloads will be alleviated as soon as the new work comes in. Many agencies have even found success winning pitches by assuring their potential client that they've already cherry-picked the best, most specialized staff from all corners of the industry to tailor their offerings to the client's niche.
3. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
No matter how much effort you put into your staffing plan, your current employees will still feel the burn and uncertainty of pitch mode -- and that sense of unease will hit every rank. Do everything in your power to give your staff no reason to look elsewhere. It will be up to senior-level management to constantly communicate the state of the business. Do it often on an agency-wide level, and encourage consistency among supervisors to have one-on-ones with their direct reports. Knowledge is power, and keeping your employees in the loop will empower them to stay invested in the business and prevent them from assuming the worst.
4. Go the extra mile to reward the staff you already employ.
Trying to keep proper staff levels is a delicate balancing act in times of change, but don't forget to acknowledge the hard work of the staff that's keeping you afloat right now. Creatives who are worn out by a seemingly endless cycle of research, pitch-writing and presenting need time and space to recharge. And worst of all, the burnout prevents them from doing good work, making the pitch pointless. Re-inspire them by giving extra vacation days to those who have been putting in long hours, award spot bonuses, take your staff on a retreat -- whatever it takes to keep burnout at bay and let everyone know their hard work is appreciated.
"Reviewmaggedon" has earned its name for a reason, but it doesn't have to be that way for the talented individuals keeping this pitch cycle happening. A little bit of reprioritization on talent will go a long way in keeping agencies vibrant and flush with business.
Jay Haines is founding partner of global executive search firm Grace Blue.Ad Age