After I wrote the post if I were an agency today, I started thinking more about that side of the business. In fact, I began talking about it with my friends who are in the agency business and I came to the point in the conversation where I realized that it goes beyond just playing nice with a company and delivering an ad for a campaign that speaks to the benefits of buying a product - left brain thinking.
Yes, it does begin with communicating conviction, as Hugh says in Hughtrain (do yourself a favor, read it often). I agree with the fact that conviction does trump benefit - we constantly seek confirmation that the meaning we give to things is in fact of value. More than right brain, this is really whole brain thinking. Synapses firing on all cylinders seeking not just to mind, but to matter as well.
Conviction is important because faith can be certain, while knowledge remains often somewhat elusive. For some reason, the more certain you are of something, the harder for you to see it through. Italian writer Italo Calvino observed that the bridge is not sustained by this stone or that one. It is the line of the arch they all form that holds it together. A good lesson in collaboration, if I ever found one.
The action is at the edges
It is in the relationship between a business and the marketplace - customers, partners, and yes, agencies that work on behalf or with the business - where value is created.
Companies muddle things, because they are very close to their own reality. We all know that the closer we are to something, the harder it is to see it clearly. Being close also means that we cease to think we're separate from the object or subject of our observation.
We aren't, all is connected, but we stop seeing how to connect the dots for others who are not so close to it. It's the relationship between things that helps each of the participants gain what they join in to find in the first place. You cannot engineer that relationship for people - stop trying!
The edge can also be a surface, the place where we experience the things that inform the stories we tell.
There is something Hugh says in his writing that I have long believed in - merit can be bought, passion can't. The only people who are going to change the world are those who want to. We're working on a lot of internal communications projects these days for this very reason. To uncover and support the people with passion.
Focus can also be dangerous when it's too narrow. Many companies are so internally-focused that the marketplace passes them by without them realizing it has done so. Communications are not going to make up for lack of information sharing or networks of practice, or a culture of collaboration, or the clarity you need.
Most importantly, the people with passion are already expressing and communicating and being infectious with their enthusiasm. As for the people on the fence - they will look at what the company rewards. If companies are hoping to not merely survive by optimizing, this focus needs to shift to a more mature approach.
Companies need to hire more people with vision, curiosity, wisdom, and passion to achieve their potential. You may notice I've made no mention of ivy league schools here. There's a reason why people with experience smarts trump people with lofty theories - they are usually hungry for all the right reason (read: other-centered, changing the world). Conversation is the best place to find those differences out.
That's where the agency has a chance to help reinvent the business. But only if it stays on the business side of the equation. Too many agencies are playing things safe and too many clients are doing all the heavy lifting - often with lackluster results.
If it's true that rules change in unfamiliar terrain (often in counterintuitive ways), then agencies have the opportunity to change the rules and potentially help reinvent the business.
It was never about the colors and the logo, of course. Only someone who's not familiar with marketing and communications could think that.
What do you think? As an agency team, do you see that as your future? Why/why not? As a client, do you think that the agency could be a welcome ally to help reinvent your business? Armed with execution skills and teams, would it beat consultants out? We all know it's a heck of a lot easier to talk about what should be done than executing on it.
We can use more clarity and simplicity in messages and writing in general. In the end, the biggest risk is not to take any risks at all.
[diagram by Dion Hinchcliffe]