This article was first published in the Cannes Lions special report “Looking to 2030: Making Your Business Future Fit”
Agencies are at a point where we have to admit that we have a problem.
Somehow, we have led ourselves to believe that we’re not good enough. That we don’t create enough value. That we are not worthy of the C-suite’s attention, that our prices are too high and our payment terms too short. And, of course, that we are much worse than consultancies, and should, therefore, become more like them somehow.
Sure, there’s some merit to all of that – in some agencies more than others. But the biggest problem is this constant self-bashing during conferences and in trade press, which only serves to exaggerate the issue to the point of absurdity. Every new fad is proclaimed to be the killer of something, every new acquisition is the start of some worrying trend. Agencies have long been thought of as somewhat arrogant – are we now overcompensating by reducing ourselves to whiny, insecure little creatures? I don’t think that’s the way to go.
On the contrary – in the next decade, the most important thing to nurture in our employees should be self-confidence. We have to start believing in ourselves and the value we create – and we must demand to be rewarded adequately.
Instead of moaning about clients demanding free ideas, we should stop participating in their pitches. Instead of groaning about tech companies stealing talent, let’s give our people more reasons to not leave, to believe in their abilities and stop micro-managing their every single step. Investing in their professional growth – and valuing that growth – is also a good idea.
Instead of trying to outsource everything we should start building capabilities in-house. Yes, that could be more expensive, but at least we will have some unique strengths in a sea of identical competitors who “have ideas” and then all go to the same suppliers to implement them.
Instead of giving in to procurement’s absurd demands for more discounts and then trying to find ways to cut corners and save by getting kickbacks or doing a bit less than promised, isn’t it time to demand reasonable pay and communicate the benefits of our work? It shouldn’t just be about the ’best price’.
Instead of constant drama and disruption for disruption’s sake, let’s focus on what works and build on that.
Instead of quietly bitching about clients’ insane demands, now is the time to break up with any toxic relationships in our lives. Draw a line and don’t cross it. It will definitely lead to less business in the short term – but more profitable and satisfying relationships going forwards.
We’re not merely suppliers. We provide amazing value to businesses all around the world. But somehow, we tend to focus on the negatives and completely forget about our strengths. This leads to self-loathing, resentment, suffering and desperation.
No more. The next decade should be dedicated to re-finding our self-confidence and reclaiming a healthy, rational belief in ourselves and the talent that works for us. It’s time to get up, fix our hair, straighten our clothes, and go to the next date not hoping that they pick us, but knowing that we are a great catch.
In other words – it’s time to get up, dust ourselves off, and walk into that next meeting not meekly hoping to get picked but knowing with total conviction that we’re the best possible answer to the client’s problem.