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How to Position Your Agency for New Business Success

How to Position Your Agency for New Business Success

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Written by Steve Boehler & Barry O’Neil

Today we’ll be looking at creating an effective positioning statement for your agency.

Three Critical Aspects of Effective Differentiation

While it’s impossible to create a completely original positioning statement (that is still clear and effective), the differentiators your agency already has can be combined to create a powerful competitive advantage.

To craft your positioning statement, first ensure that your agency has the following:

  1. A compelling agency philosophy that inspires clients and employees and provides confidence in your quality of work.
  2. An insight-driven strategic process that enables strategy to come alive through powerful work.
  3. An interaction process that gives prospects a feel for what it’s like to work with your agency.

Let’s look at what these assets can do and what each should include.

Elements of a Great Agency Philosophy 

The goal of an agency philosophy is to inspire confidence in your work. It gives you a unified voice and singular message to the marketplace. This philosophy will be the creative embodiment of your differentiation by stating:

  • How the agency describes success
  • How the agency defines good work
  • How the agency stands out from the crowd
  • How the agency inspires its staff

“Storytellers for the Information Age is our philosophy and One Story, Many Voices is how we do it. There’s so much information today and everything got so fragmented. There’s so many channels now. Everything was pulled apart because there’s so much access to information now that we felt you needed to bring it back into one thing. Marketers were doing one thing on TV and another thing online and another thing on their website. It was all different stories. We felt that clients needed their one story, that one true thing that they stand for. So it’s a story being told in many different ways and a lot of different timings, but it’s the same story.” Mark Figliulo, Founder and Creative Chairman, FIG

Elements of a Great Strategic Process

This process will give confidence that you can create successful work time and time again. If you have a track record of addressing business issues, defining your process should be as simple as spelling out how you did it. Such a process should:

  • Address critical contexts: brand, category and consumer
  • Fit the agency culture, positioning and philosophy
  • Provide value before work begins
  • Inspire great work
Kaplan Thaler Group’s Strategic Process prior to Publicis acquisition

Kaplan Thaler Group (KTG) was once the fastest growing major creative shop in the US. Founded in 1997 by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval, and eventually acquired by Publicis, KTG shot to fame as a result of strategically insightful, brilliant campaigns that drove amazing results for their clients. Their positioning was based on the idea of creating a “Bang!” by driving consumers with a big, bold, strategically sound idea. That idea was inspired by a rigorous strategic process.

Elements of a Great Interaction Process 

A great relationship should not be an afterthought. The most successful agencies have a defined process for client interaction that invites the client in early and engages them in the work well before the execution. This process should be:

  • Values based
  • Aligned with agency philosophy and strategic process
  • Focused on business benefits
  • Client-centric

Returning to the Kaplan Thaler Group example, their team often showcased their book The Power of Nice in their presentations. This book differentiates the Kaplan Thaler Group experience from other agencies. In their words:

“A core philosophy of our agency is that we should be the best part of our client’s day. We know there are many not-so-fun things our clients have to deal with on a regular basis. The creative and the agency should be two of the most enjoyable things. 

We believe N-I-C-E is the most powerful four-letter word in the English language. It is at the heart of who we are, how we treat each other, how we work with our clients, and how we create loyal relationships with consumers. 

All this translates to a culture of building up, not tearing down. Support, not isolation. And collaborative interaction, not pride of authorship. It starts from the top and trickles down to everyone at the agency.”

The Power of Nice, by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval

Putting It All Together

Put these elements together and you can see how an agency’s positioning statement aligns with classic positioning work:

(agency) is the (type of agency) for (target audience) that provides (agency philosophy) better than other agencies because of (agency process) and (interaction process).

Once these three aspects of effective differentiation are clear and confidently stated, it creates enough space around your agency to allow you to stand out from the crowded market. Here’s how a creative agency might fill in the blanks:

AgencyUs is the entertainment-driven creative agency for well-known brands that provides winning, out-of-the-box campaigns better than other agencies because of our beauty-meets-business approach and playfully serious process.

There’s little question who this agency is best suited for and how they approach their work. Clients know exactly what they’re getting before they even say hello. 

This template doesn’t mean you need to stop there – these longer statements can be a starting point to get you to a shorter, pithier agency positioning for sharing with the world.

You can’t confidently sell yourself without first clarifying who you are. DO the work so you can GET the work.

Steve Boehler, founder and partner at Mercer Island Group, has led consulting teams on behalf of clients as diverse as Nokia, HP, Microsoft, Sprint, Nintendo, Abbott Laboratories and numerous others. He founded MIG after serving as a division president in a Fortune 100 when he was only 32. Earlier in his career, Steve Boehler cut his teeth with a decade in Brand Management at Procter & Gamble, leading brands like Tide, Pringles and Jif.

Barry O’Neil, a Senior Consultant at Mercer Island Group, has led numerous agency/vendor searches and client/agency relationship management 360 review processes. He has led efforts for clients such as CFA Institute, U.S. Cellular, Ulta Beauty, Clarisonic, CenturyLink, CustomInk and many others. He has also participated in corporate restructuring initiatives, client process realignment initiatives, and agency new business reviews and pitch/positioning consulting.