WHO KNOWS WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN?

Who Knows What You Believe by Mike Sullivan, president of The Loomis Agency, the country's leading challenger brand advertising agency and the Voice of the Underdog

As advertising agencies, as marketing firms, as design shops, I think a lot of the time people know far less about who we are, what we believe, and what our intentions are than we think they do. And it’s not for lack of trying.

It’s for lack of traction.

Start at the beginning. Every agency, firm, house, and studio we know has their version of a mission statement, a brand promise, or a manifesto that cuts to core of who they are and why they exist.

You know how it goes. A dozen meetings give way to a hundred hours burning thousands of brain cells to craft, pinch, poke, and prod our corporate mantras and elevator speeches until they’re absolutely perfect.

We post them on the website.

We put them on the backs of business cards.

We spend more than we’d ever care to admit having them crafted in backlit, brushed nickel for the wall in the agency lobby. The Wow factor.

But to what end?

IT’S NOT WHAT YOU BELIEVE, BUT WHAT YOU DO WITH IT, THAT MATTERS

Our problem isn’t that manifestos and the like are bad, or unnecessary. On the contrary, having a True North is essential to making sure everyone in your company ends up in the same place. Our problem is how little we lean into them once they’re completed.

When was the last time you talked with your staff about your agency’s reason for being?

How often do your employees say, or do anything you could point to that reflects the agency’s mission statement?

If I asked every one of your clients – or ours for that matter — what your agency, firm, or studio was all about, how close do you think they’d get?

About 14 years ago, I spent a year thinking about this for our agency. I read books. I went to marketing seminars. I talked to industry leaders I knew and respected. And at the end of that time, my leadership team and I decided we were going to make LOOMIS the leading advertising voice for challenger brands across the country. Brands that wanted and needed a full-service communications partner that could help them outthink, rather than outspend their much larger competition.

As much as we loved the idea of working on industry leaders like Coca-Cola, American Airlines and Ford – brands our team had worked on earlier in their careers — we were drawn instead to help the underdog brands that were just like we were. Scrappy. Hungry. And willing to fight like hell to beat the bigger dogs.

That decision has colored everything we’ve done at LOOMIS since. It’s molded our culture. It’s informed who we chose to work with over the years. And most of all, it provided an identity for us. Our True North. Now a decade in, we know who we are right down to which dog breed we’d be. And more importantly, we know who we’re not.

WANT THE WORLD TO KNOW WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN? FOLLOW THE FIVE CIRCLES

If you’re reading this and it’s dawning on you (like it did to me 14 years ago) your agency, or your company, or your brand is lacking a crystal clear vision, there will never be a better time to correct that, than now. There are many paths you can choose to drill down to the core of who you are as a company or a brand, and an equal number you can take to communicate what it is you believe in. Whichever paths you choose, following what we call “The Five Circles” will help you distill your vision, maximize your impact, and ensure you have alignment with everyone who matters to your success. Here’s a quick topline:

CIRCLE 1 – The Leader

This is the innermost of the five concentric circles. The center. The core of the brand. As the leader, it is imperative that you understand both who you are as a leader, and what it is you want your company to be about. Simon Sinek says “Start With Why,” and I think he’s right. If you don’t understand why you believe what you believe, or who it is you want to be, you will never understand your purpose, or how to bring your vision to life. You don’t have to figure out every nuance of the vision and it doesn’t have to be perfect. But make no mistake – purpose and vision start with you.

CIRCLE 2 – The Leadership Team

Once you have some understanding of who or what you want your company or brand to be about, the next step is to share that vision with your leadership team. These are the people who will lead your team into battle. In this circle, you should expect pushback. Disagreement. Challenges. And quite possibly, a return to Circle One. And that’s okay. This is a building process and if the vision doesn’t light up your closest confidantes and the people who should know your company as well as you do, better to start again and find something that will. Because when you do find your true core identity, the energy that comes from it will power success you can’t even imagine.

CIRCLE 3 – Your Employees, Your Team, Your Staff

Leaders who are aligned, informed, and excited to lead are infectious. To move your vision forward, they have to be. Your team needs to be led. So lead them. Light them up. And then listen to them. Hear what your employees think of where you are leading them. Even the new ones. And then adapt. Circle three is your last chance to sculpt the vision before unleashing it on the world. But remember, no vision is perfect or immutable. Vision can be organic. Don’t be afraid to learn and make changes.

CIRCLE 4 – Your Clients, Your Partners, Your Colleagues

Once everyone in your company knows who they are, knows what your brand really stands for, it’s time to share that vision with those closest to you outside the company. Existing clients. New clients. Production partners. The professional colleagues whose opinions you value. Take them to lunch. Treat them to dinner. Think of those you respect as a personal board of directors. Don’t sell them. Invite them into your vision. Infect them with your enthusiasm and watch what happens. Energy attracts energy and when visions align, the power is exponential.

CIRCLE 5 – The Rest of The World

In each of the first four concentric circles, the vision for your brand has been distilled into the most perfect version of itself possible. You have filled the gaps, polished the rough edges and exchanged anything holding you back for something that will spring you forward. Now, it’s time to share who you are with the world and how that identity will help you fulfill your purpose. That alignment is one of the greatest feelings you will ever have in our business. It’s a constant process that takes diligence, attention, patience and trust. But it’s also one that will change you and the people who work for you, forever.

MIKE SULLIVAN is the president at LOOMIS, the country’s leading challenger brand advertising agency. For more about challenger branding, subscribe to our blog BARK! The Voice of the Underdog