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Leadership Archive

5 Epic Marketing Lessons From The Best Small Ad Agencies In The World

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If there’s an argument against using a small advertising agency, I’ve probably used it.

After 15 years leading work for dozens of clients at two of the biggest ad agencies in the world, and participating in close to 100 pitches—I know how to argue against a smaller competitor. Yet for more than a year now, I have become that smaller competitor. I run my own consulting group, and I work with those large agencies as a partner now.

SAA2014SLANTEDBANNER1So when the annual list of Small Agency Awards are announced by AdAge, as they were a few weeks ago, I pay a little bit more attention. Not only because I love to see fellow “little guys” achieving great things—but because I’m lucky enough to know quite a few people on the list.

This year, I was inspired by the stories of the agencies. In an industry dominated by giant agencies and rampant consolidation, these tiny players are finding new ways to compete. There were five lessons that stood out as being valuable for any business owner fighting the age-old David-versus-Goliath battle.

1. Create an epic culture.

DiMassimo Goldstein focuses on culture by hosting events from “epic parties offering free permanent tattoos to a monthly ‘Offlining Day’ where employees detox from devices.” Swift, founded by two women, works to lower the stress of agency life with an indoor archery range, karaoke and yoga. Portland-based Roundhouse Agency has even built a pro bono incubator to provide marketing guidance and support for local businesses.

What each of these agencies realize is that people may accept a new job for the work, but they stay for the culture and team. Donut Mondays and Casual Fridays don’t create a strong culture. To hold on to your best people, you need to be more … well, epic.

2. Be opinionated.

Almost every agency on the list shares some version of the same mantra: Go beyond TV spots and be a trusted advisor for clients. In most cases, this means thinking beyond just one channel and going outside the traditional role of an outsourced partner aiming to deliver a campaign instead of a solution.Muhtayzik Hoffer and Proof Advertising both prove the most important thing an agency can deliver to a client is a point of view. Are you consistently delivering your point of view—or are you just taking orders and fulfilling?

3. Own a signature event.

When Lindsay, Stone & Briggs first built its reputation, it wasn’t based on a stunning creative campaign. Instead, it credits BrandWorks—its pioneering three-day retreat for brand marketers in Madison, Wisconsin—an event that put the agency on the map. At SXSW last year, nFusion hosted the “Cojones Awards” to honor risk-taking and bold-thinking corporate marketers. Both agencies credit their signature events with helping them get on the radar of big brands and build their reputations in the process. The lesson is clear: Sometimes the best way to build your reputation is by owning something public, real and valuable.

4. Work with unlikely collaborators.

iStrategyLabs has produced experiences for the Washington Redskins and Nickelodeon. At headquarters, mechanical and electrical engineers work side by side with designers and copywriters to create new and unexpected experiences. Argentinean agency +Castro brings in collaborators like architects and cardiologists on a project-by-project basis in order to deliver new creative ideas and campaigns. What both agencies know is that sometimes the most creative and groundbreaking work can come from fostering an intersection of expertise instead of just gathering a big group of people who all share the same skill set.

5. Know the signs of bad customers.

At the AdAge Small Agency Conference leading up to the awards, founder of Marketing Mentor Ilise Benun shared four red flags agencies should look out for when deciding whether to take on a questionable client. She noted that chaos, no budget, cluelessness and disrespect are all signs that a client should be avoided. Her list works perfectly for any type of creative services industry, but ask yourself if you have built a similar list of things to look for when considering a new customer for your business. The point is, sometimes knowing who you don’t want might be the best marketing strategy of all.

This post was originally published at the American Express Open Forum website, where Rohit is a contributing author.  Read more of his Small Business oriented articles here (login required) >

How Cat Videos Are Killing Your Credibility

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Real experts don’t talk about cat videos. There is a strangely troubling trend I have come across recently that seems to be once again afflicting presentations at business events around the world. It comes down to the ubiquitous cat video – and its closely related cousin, the animated cat GIF.  Don’t get me wrong. I like a cute kitten as…Read More >>

Why Most Trends Don’t Matter (And 15 New 2014 Trends That Do!)

Why Most Trends Don’t Matter (And 15 New 2014 Trends That Do!)

If you believe the typical trend declarations for 2014 – this is going to be the year of big data, wearable devices, and ubiquitous tablets. These are the facts we have heard over the past two months presented as big insights for the coming year. There are only a few problems with these so called trends, and others like them:…Read More >>

How LinkedIn, YouTube & Others Could Finally Cure Stupidity Online

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The greatest collection of human stupidity ever amassed sits on the Internet … and you probably encounter it every day. When you go online today, there is some great content – and a deluge of bad, useless or otherwise idiotic content. It is common knowledge that content creation online is exploding and that much of it is not very good….Read More >>

What 7 Masters Of Persuasion Can Teach You About Behavioral Marketing

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This past weekend one of the first ever conferences on consumer psychology and behavior focusing on marketing, sales and business strategy quietly took place in Stamford, Connecticut.  Before the September craziness of business events and corporate summits … Behaviorcon was intentionally different.  Created by best selling author Ramit Sethi and marketing and branding advisor Michael Fishman – the event brought together a…Read More >>

7 Ways To Get Marketing Agencies To Work Together In a Mega-Agency World

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Today two of the biggest communications holding companies, Omnicom and Publicis, announced they will be merging to form the world’s largest advertising company. For anyone familiar with the common in-fighting among agencies for limited client budgets, one of the immediate concerns will be the challenges that these new found partners in this “merger of equals” will face in the coming…Read More >>

How To Get Better At Networking: 7 Questions With Porter Gale

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Recently I had the chance to sit down with Porter Gale and pick her brain about some smart tips that can help anyone get better at networking.  Her new book Your Network Is Your Net Worth features a cover quote from Sir Richard Branson.  As if that weren’t impressive enough, she is the former CMO of Virgin America and someone…Read More >>

5 Unforgettable Things I Learned From The Office

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Fellow fans of The Office television show are sharing a moment of sadness this morning. Last night was the series finale of the documentary-style comedy show that exposed the silly side of the workplace for nine years. For me, the show coincided almost perfectly with my move from Australia back to America and my own journey of joining an American…Read More >>

Get A Free Copy Of My Newest eBook … Always Eat Left Handed: 15 Surprisingly Simple Secrets Of Success

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I want to give you a free copy of my new ebook … but I don’t want you to keep it.* Let me tell you why. On June 18, my newest ebook will be released and I am writing it for an audience that may not include you. Unless of course you happen to be in high school or college,…Read More >>

How To Earn Respect … By Giving Up

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Today was a big day for the Netherlands. Back in January, the Dutch Queen Beatrix decided to abdicate her throne to pave the way for the next generation of loyalty to take over. Today was her final day as queen, as her son Willem-Alexander became the new King and youngest monarch in Europe. As it turns out, Dutch royalty have…Read More >>