Article

Newsflash: your agency doesn't stand-out

9 Mar 2017

Posted by Robin Bonn

Nothing kills new-business like a poor proposition. But if most agencies know this, then why do we surround clients with generic crap – especially as it’s so easy to fix?

Are you really best placed to say whether your agency's proposition is any good? 

Maybe ask your clients. But like asking your kids who's their favourite parent, they’re too polite to tell the truth. 

Alternatively, ask three colleagues the same three questions – if they could only contact one new-business prospect, who would it be; what would they say to them; and why would the client listen.

If you get consistent answers: hats off. Your team is genuinely engaged – rather than just reading off your corporate coffee mugs.

But if you don't, like so many agencies, your proposition still needs some work. 

What is a proposition, anyway?

A bit like visions and missions, people often confuse propositions with positioning. I prefer to start with narratives. Your proposition is part of it, but so is a positioning and a point of view.

Positioning defines your market. If it’s a big market, like 'digital', your positioning isn’t differentiating. But if you’re in a small market, like SEO specialists in Kettering, or an emerging discipline, like service design, then it’s a crucial signpost to specialisation.

Your proposition is the value you deliver, not an airy-fairy strapline. It’s your answer when the client wearily asks again, ‘yes, but what do you actually DO?’. It’s some-thing done for some-one; defining what your expertise delivers and who benefits.

The final part of your narrative is a point of view. The term de jour is ‘purpose’. Or if you prefer Simon Sinek’s much-lauded Golden Circle, it’s your ‘why’ – a fundamental belief explaining why you do what you do.

Weave these three elements together and you have a very distinctive narrative.

How narrative informs your agency experience

No-one needs reminding that it’s getting harder to stand-out. But most agency new-business is mired in so-called ‘best practice’ – which is, by definition, at odds with being distinctive.

But having a compelling narrative enables you to differentiate – and not just via consistent marketing. It also provides an authentic platform on which to build your agency’s entire customer experience.

And in a world where clients value genuine expertise above all, your CX is an ownable winner.

Finding your voice

Although there are three parts, finding your narrative is actually pretty quick – despite agencies’ fondness for arguing about this stuff for months (don’t get me started on the endless joy that is website copy).

Having a visionary founder supply some conviction helps avoid the cat-herding. But you should also give yourself permission to iterate.

If you start with genuine beliefs and take some fundamental business decisions about the work you aspire to, then it’s okay to refine your story – and who you tell it to – over time.

An opportunity to stand-out

One of the reasons I founded Co:definery was that I was sick of over-claiming agencies upsetting clients and giving themselves an ulcer. This is due, in large part, to the evolution of the new-business discipline stalling with the economic downturn.

But the continuing blurring of disciplines – and other agencies’ compulsion to land-grab – has created a real opportunity for specialists to develop a strong narrative and be heard above the noise.


Robin Bonn is the founder of Co:definery  a New-Business management consultancy. You can reach him on robin.bonn@codefinery.com

(Image: Sucre Life)

Robin Bonn
Posted by Robin Bonn

Robin is a member of the BIMA MarComms Council and is the Founder of Co:definery, a management consultancy specialising in helping agency CEOs to reinvent the way they do new-business. Unusually, he’s spent his whole career in new-business – and never fallen out of love with it. Even more unusually, he’s plied his trade across a whole bunch of disciplines, from service design and creative technology, through editorial content and video production, to CRM and consultancy. Along the way, he’s succeeded – and ballsed it up – at start-ups, global networks and independents gearing up to sell. He’s led winning pitches for the likes of Skype, Eurostar, Fujitsu, Experian, Spotify, P&G, ITV, Microsoft, Facebook and Ford, to name a few. And he’s pretty sure he’s won more than he’s lost. Robin is a former member of the IPA’s New Business Group and Direct Marketing Association’s Agencies’ Council and an alumni of author and former IPG Chief Growth Officer Kevin Allen’s ‘Hidden Agenda’ program. He’s also a mentor – or ‘man-bassador’ – for SheSays, an organisation helping women rise to the top of the creative industries, and a columnist for Marketing Week. Having been hired a bajillion times to tear up new-business and start again, he launched Co:definery when he realised that agencies really are their own worst enemies. They claim to do everything, despite clients seeing straight past the jazz-hands. And they keep applying generic so-called ‘best practice’, wondering why they always get what they always got.

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