Clients demand expertise, so why don’t we offer it?

28 Jun 2017

Posted by Robin Bonn

Scattershot new-business hurts agencies, but if demonstrating genuine expertise is the antidote, why is that so hard to do?   

Everybody and their mum is banging-on about how screwed agencies are. We certainly have self-inflicted wounds. Are we dying? Maybe. The shit’s certainly flying in from all angles.

In recent times, we’ve had the Drum’s barely concealed ‘WTF?’ over the “surprising” and “puzzling” decisions of client CMOs joining DDB and MullenLowe. Mark Ritson’s added his contempt for content marketing’s claim to be new.

Even agencies joined in. Salmon’s Hugh Fletcher acknowledged client concerns about the “limited commercial understanding and blue-sky bullshit of agencies”. And ex-Goodby Silverstein & Partners strategist Andy Grayson made a compelling plea about wasted talent.

We’re doomed… DOOOOMED, I tell you!

New-business: our favourite time to shoot ourselves in the foot

Sadly, this stench of death comes from our own bullet-riddled feet. Our refusal to focus has made new-business the very worst of us, instead of the best.

Agencies are mostly indistinguishable. Many have countless claimed ‘specialisms’ and a generic non-proposition (“no, no, we’re about ‘creative business results’, they’re about ‘business results – creatively”).

As new specialists mix with ever-expanding generalists, sharp elbows and land-grab dominate, fuelled by bullshit claims of new expertise.

The value of expertise

Imagine you need a doctor. Your back hurts like hell and the GP’s no help. You know nothing about spines. So you’re terrified and need a specialist, stat.

But finding one’s hard because you don’t really know what’s wrong.

Fortunately, every day you get 50 emails from doctors listing spines halfway down page three of their ‘specialisms’. So you start meeting with ten of the least oily.

Clearly you’ve got pretty poor odds of unearthing the expertise you need.

And there it is again. The ‘E’ word. Expertise.

This is what clients pay us for. But we’re terminally unable to define it. In particular, we refuse to admit what we’re not good at.

New-business powered by belief

New-business can be the catalyst for change – but only if we evolve beyond me-too best practice for punting our wares.

It’s time to define your agency’s entire customer experience, ensuring it’s powered by a genuine passion that informs what you do, not just what you say.

With a core belief – not just a pithy strap-line – deepening your expertise is as easy as indulging a hobby. Your people can’t imagine working anywhere else. You’re running a ‘movement’ not an agency. Thought leadership flows from everyone.

More to the point, you become polarising – not right for many, indispensable for some. You stand out. You say ‘no’ with confidence. You shift the balance of power. You win more – often without a pitch – and get paid a premium.

This isn’t an idealistic pipe-dream. It’s what other sectors do. Sure, it’s easier for founders, but doable for anyone. So in our under-fire sea of sameness, are you part of the problem or the solution?

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

(image: Productive Flourishing)

Robin Bonn
Posted by Robin Bonn

Robin is a member of the BIMA MarComms Council and the Founder of Co:definery, a management consultancy advising agency CEOs on standout, conversion and profit. He’s spent 20 years driving growth for startups, indies and global networks, across a range of emerging and traditional disciplines. 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. In his old life, Robin led winning pitches for the likes of Skype, Eurostar, Fujitsu, Experian, Spotify, P&G, ITV, Microsoft, Facebook and Ford, to name a few. He’s also a former member of the IPA’s New Business Group and Direct Marketing Association’s Agencies’ Council. But while client challenges got harder, he saw agencies increasingly lag behind, with old-fashioned ‘best practice’ models for growth, new-business and profit dating badly. Since founding Co:definery, he’s advised the CEOs and Founders of dozens of agencies; repositioning, refocusing and reorganising them to increase standout and win more often.

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