Tis the season for reflecting on the year that’s past and for looking forward to a bigger, better, happier new year. We first visited this topic four years ago and since then, not a whole lot has changed. These 10 signs are still great measures to gauge whether your ad agency had a successful year and hopefully an inspirational list to get you primed for even greater success in 2019.
Profits Are Up
Naturally, the first place we all look to gauge success is the balance sheet. For every ad agency, the goal each year is to increase revenue, but the true telltale is how much you were able to make stick. Increasingly, clients want more for less and many are splitting disciplines – media, digital, creative, production – among different companies which makes increasing profit more difficult each year. Kudos if you ended the year with plenty of extra. If you didn’t, don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth in the new year. If you’re doing great work and getting results, there are plenty of clients who will pay you fairly for it. If you have a client taking advantage of you, it’s time for a replacement strategy, stat.
You Traded a Toxic Client for a Better One
Nothing kills an agency culture and the talented people in it faster than a toxic client. If you traded a bad client for a better one this year, you not only strengthened your agency, you gave the loyal, hard-working people who drive your success a gift. We all know there are times and reasons to fight through a toxic client, but the sooner they can be replaced the better. The health of your culture and the people in it are far more crucial to your success than any single client.
You Upgraded Your Staff
In his classic book, Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make The Leap And Others Don’t, Jim Collins describes building your staff in two phases. First, you have to get all the right people on the bus. Second, you have to get everyone in the right seats. Whether we’re talking about the sheer number of bodies in your ad agency, or the caliber of those people, when you balance talent with what revenue can support, it’s darn near impossible to employ the dream staff you’d really like to have. But you can get close. The key is building it over time with talented thinkers and not being afraid to transition out those who aren’t a good fit. And don’t be afraid to lean into some of your younger thinkers. When you remove ego, what looks like youthful arrogance can actually turn out to be paradigm-breaking insight.
You Have a Robust New Business Process in Place
If you’ve ever been a part of the ad agency new business process, you know how incredibly tough it is. But that’s no reason to ignore it. New business is the lifeblood of every agency and when times are good, you may feel a tendency to relax your new business muscle. Don’t. Building a robust new business machine takes time, talent and effort, but once it’s rolling, it’s a lot easier to keep it rolling. Having a stout and deliberate new business process in place is crucial to your future success. If you don’t yet have one, you now have your first big project to tackle in the new year.
You Did Something That Pushed You Outside Your Comfort Zone
This could have been something in the agency, or work for a client, but it’s a hugely important gauge for success in our business. Somebody recently told me, “If it doesn’t hurt a little, you’re not growing.” We all have our formulas for success. But as Marshall Goldsmith covers in his book What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There, we all have to break free from our ruts to take our game to the next level. If you’re not doing work outside your area of expertise, you’re just idling and you’re missing out on the vast majority of opportunities out there.
You Did Work You’re Proud Of
Whether you work in advertising, marketing, media, design, or digital, you probably worked between 2,500 and 3,000 hours this year, all subdivided into ads, spots, boards, buys, challenges, and deadlines. Somewhere in there, you ended up with lots of finished work. Were you proud of it? Was it smart? Creative? Insightful? Effective? If you lined up every piece end to end, how many would you look at and say, “that’s one for the agency portfolio.” Years ago, I read a profile of longtime Fallon visionary Bill Westbrook and in it, he said if you’re not turning over half its book every year, something is wrong. Half is crazy ambitious, but how many ad agencies are turning over five percent, 10 percent, 20 percent of their work every year? If you’re doing better than that, buy yourself a Starbucks, take a load off, and relax. It’s been a good year. If not, it’s time to rethink some things – literally and figuratively.
You Moved the Needle
As we’ve all heard it said, there’s nothing creative about work that doesn’t sell. Fantastic work is art. But what raises advertising to an art form is work that also gets results. Only when you build your book while building companies and brands, can you step into your purpose as an ad agency and enjoy the kind of success that defines the greats.
Your Leadership Team is Solid
For most leaders, real introspection about the effectiveness of their leadership doesn’t come second nature. It takes honest and deliberate focus and a willingness to admit when things aren’t up to snuff. Even more, it takes a commitment to owning the agency’s shortcomings and a dedication to solving them. How strong is your leadership team, really? If there’s work to be done, let it begin. Your staff learns by watching you and mirrors the behaviors they see. When those who work for you see their leaders working on themselves personally and professionally, the positive effects can be exponential.
You’re Excited About the New Year
With 55 days left until New Year’s, 2019 is upon us. Are you excited and charged up about the coming annum and all its possibilities, or do you find yourself flat and indifferent to another year in the business? If you’ve had a good year, odds are you’re ready for the holiday break, but excited to get back at it in January. If not, take the holidays to ask yourself, “why not?” Find something to light you up. Fall in love with the business again. Lots of people are depending on you figuring that out.
You’re Having Fun
This is advertising. It’s supposed to be fun! If it’s not, make it so. And have a fantastic new year.