If your agency cannot be different, then at least try to be distinctive

Like that scene from the 1979 Monty Python film, Life of Brian, “we are all individuals, we are all different”. A feature of humanity is our desire to be individuals while all maintaining a sense of belonging. But, when it comes to the way we promote our plethora of advertising agencies and marketing suppliers, are we different? How individual or different are advertising agencies?

I witness a huge amount of time and effort invested in trying to present agencies either as different or present them in a different way. I have seen agency presentations based on the idea of a “United Republic of….” as a metaphor for how the various services brands come together as a single “full service” offering. There was the “No bull$%#@ agency.” This was based on the agency founder’s belief that mainstream agencies were full of bull.

Other agencies come up with a whole new language for their various roles and titles in an attempt to be different. One was based on a cheese shop, with the CEO becoming the Grand Fromage and all the petite cheeses. Some see these attempts as novel, but are they different? They are just new names for traditional roles.

The truth is the vast majority of agencies are not different. And the way they present themselves is not different.

There are several challenges facing agencies in their desire to express themselves as being different. These are:

  1. Advertising is a process and no matter how many proprietary tools and processes agencies devise, the underlying process is basically the same. Most agencies offer very similar services in very similar ways. Media planning and buying, creative development and production and all things digital largely follow the same process. Any nuance of difference is often lost in translation.
  2. Agencies all seem to think there is a formula for presenting themselves. Watch enough agency credentials presentations and you see the same patterns predictably appearing over and again. And as we know, predictability is the enemy of different. The best way to demonstrate the issue is in this spoof of the very worst of agency credentials presentations I first posted back on April 1, 2011. The sad part is that reading the comments, clearly, some people have thought of this as a “How to” rather than a “How NOT to” video.
  3. Agencies have the wrong objective for the way they present themselves. Most think the objective is to inform the prospective client about what they do. It is as if they believe that the client does not know what an ad agency, or media agency or PR agency does. The real purpose is to convince the client to give you their business and that is not by telling them what you do, but what you can do for them.

But despite all these challenges, it does not mean agencies cannot be distinctive.

You may think this is just semantics. You may believe that different and distinctive are synonyms of each other. The fact is it is more effective being consistently distinctive than it is trying to be uniquely different. Easier too.

Let me explain.

Unless you have somehow managed to come up with something truly different (and well done if you have) then the next best option is to be distinctive. There are several steps you need to take to find what it is that makes you distinctive and then work on a plan to amplify this distinction and apply a discipline to make it synonymous with you.

Find something you distinctively own.

It could be your name, your heritage, your purpose. But whatever it is, it needs to have a foundation in who you are. Or you need to create it as a foundation of who you are as an organisation.

Traditionally, this was the name of the founders on the door. It’s what originally gave the world Doyle, Dane and Bernbach. Or Valenstein & Fatt’s. And today gives us VMLY&R and other alphabet concoctions.

These days agencies are putting more time into names that are distinctive and hold a promise, such as Uncommon, Anomaly or Blitzworks The best ones then extend that agency name into their distinctive story, full of promise and appeal.

Develop and tell your distinctive story.

I wish I had a dollar for every agency that told me they were going to share their story, only to be bored to death with a list of facts and details about what they do. What you do and how you do it is very hard to make either interesting or different. On the other hand, why, where and when has potential.

But even then, presenting a list of case studies or rattling off a list of details or facts is not going to be meaningful or memorable. Supposedly, agencies are meant to be master storytellers, yet so few appear to be able to tell the story of why they exist, who and where they have done it.

Develop your storytelling capabilities by developing and practicing stories that do not inform, but excite, intrigue, surprise and delight your potential clients into wanting to work with you. After all, this is the main and only purpose of ever talking about yourself.

Make it relevant and full of promise.

It is fine to be distinctive but does it, or the telling of the story of your agency hold a promise of an advantage to your clients and potential clients? Remember, if every other agency can basically do the same thing as you, then to stand out and be chosen you need to be memorable, desirable, and relevant.

While it can be difficult to know what a particular marketer is looking for and wanting in an agency, it is reasonably easy to understand what most marketers are wanting in their agency. Chris Stephenson at OMG best expressed it like this – all marketers either want to be successful or famous. Some are just happy with success, but the exciting ones for an agency to work with want to also be famous. But be careful of the ones who only want fame as fame can be fleeting.

Understand this and then make sure your agency story is all about making your clients successful and perhaps even famous.

TrinityP3 provides agencies with advice on how to best present their agency in intensive 2-hour workshops. You can find out more about it and book your sessions here.