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How to be a nimble agency

Posted by Jenna Watson on May 13th, 2014 at 11:57 am

Jack be nimble.  Jack be quick.  Jack jump over the candlestick.

The old nursery rhyme about Jack is short and without mystery. There is no question that all Jack needs to do to be successful is simply be nimble, quick and make it over the candlestick without getting his bum singed.

In order to thrive, today’s agencies must channel their inner Jack.

The variety and depth of data and technologies available, coupled with the speed of change for our clients’ businesses, is unprecedented and shows no signs of slowing.  To remain valuable partners, agencies must be able to solve for our clients’ unique situations with faster and smarter application of their offerings, and do it without getting themselves or their clients burned.

There are three key historic/always-been-done operating procedures that still remain in many agencies, and which prevent nimbleness.

  1. The FTE by Role Staffing Model: Many staffing models allow for a certain percentage of FTEs at specific levels and roles to satisfy a contract. While this makes sense as a starting point for engagements and clients that are new and just starting off, agencies must allow for change in staffing on-the-fly to truly benefit the client. Often, one role that seemed necessary during the scoping phase of the engagement will become redundant, while another, more necessary, resource sits elsewhere, unused, because they haven’t been scoped.

This type of math-based team creation causes bloat and can often prevent the team of the best minds for the specific engagement from coming together. A tight team of three people that work well together and have a robust skill set between them can often do a better job than a team of seven, each with their own specialty.

During contract negotiations, agencies should make it known that after the first 90 days, a reevaluation of the team will occur, with client focus and team efficiencies the central point of any staffing changes.

  1. Hiring and Training: Many agencies have taken the time and effort to up-level and advance their training and education curriculum for staff members, which is a definite step in the right direction. By training junior staff members across skills, as generalists, rather than assigning them to a specific subject matter, cross-training them allows for greater future flexibility in their application on client engagements. Additionally, it provides more opportunities for them to stretch and grow, and allows them real-world experience in putting their knowledge to work. They will be more satisfied and able to respond more fully to future client needs.

Beyond the generalist approach for junior team members, agencies must also take the time to cultivate seasoned performers that are able to demonstrate broad knowledge of the agency’s complete offering and also deep dive into specific tactical areas. Often a rare find in agencies, this client-focused employee can oftentimes fill in gaps in on-the-fly decisions and client conversations and ensure flawless execution against strategic integration effectively, even when seasoned SMEs are not available to support. Despite their seniority, those employees should be presented with active coaching and elevation of those skill-sets, to further allow fluidity in the agency’s response to client needs.

  1. Risk Acceptance and Price Flexibility: More and more today, agencies are being asked to share the risk of their programs with their clients, with pay-for-performance models as a portion or all of their compensation model. Smart agencies recognize when this makes sense, but also view a multitude of additional pricing options as acceptable to discuss with potential clients as well. Quite simply, it cannot be a one-size-fits-all model, and agencies must be willing to create the best-fit approach to pricing based on each individual engagement. It is a dinosaur-mentality that insists that the pricing model that worked three years ago for a major Financial Services client will suffice and please the newly-won Retail account.

All agencies, from small boutique shops to multi-armed, multi-offering agencies can benefit from a reevaluation of these policies and practices.  Addressing and getting comfortable with these three tenets are a first-step in achieving flexibility, speed, nimbleness, and, ultimately, client satisfaction.

2 Responses to “How to be a nimble agency”

  1. Gisele Schoenberger says:

    Ms. Jenna Watson,

    You are very clever indeed and succinct in your choice of words!

    Sincerely,

    Gisele V.S.
    Gisele's Art Studio

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