Agency self-promotion has always been a dicey topic, full of self-loathing, jealousy and missteps. We can admire David Ogilvy’s Confessions of an Advertising Man for its insights about the industry, but bristle when someone points out that its real value was that it was an advertising campaign for his agency. We can shake our heads at the outrageous claims of George Lois even as we argue over the iconic covers he did or did not create for Esquire magazine. We can even grumble with jealousy at the success of an Alex Bogusky or David Droga while still reading every interview and item about them that pops up in our newsfeed.
And I’ve often wondered why this is. What’s wrong with promoting yourself – or your agency, or your thinking – to the general public, let alone within the industry? To deny it is to deny the value of advertising itself. We tell clients that they need to advertise because their customers will not, Emerson’s admonition aside, beat a path to their door if they’ve developed a better mousetrap. That at the least they need to do something to cut through the clutter of the other noise of the day. That at the most, they need to find venues and opportunities to articulate their benefits convincingly. Why should this not be so with advertising? Is it some hold over vestigial limb from a nobler imagined past when gentlemen didn’t do that sort of thing? Because, if that’s the case, then sugar, I think it’s safe to say that that ship sailed long before even Rosser Reeves and Julian Koenig walked upon Adland’s mountains green.
Indeed, I think there are really two reasons why agencies don’t promote themselves (well, maybe, three – billability. But I’ll let account service and the CFO handle that). First, they don’t know what they would say if they did (most agencies seem terrified of actually having to plant a stake in the ground about themselves – often more so than the clients they are trying to do work for. The irony of this statement is not lost on me, though it usually flies over most agencies’ heads). And second, if they were able to figure out what they wanted to say (or could agree on it) they don’t know how to go about pushing it out to the proper people – beyond the miserable print ads agencies seem to have made a habit of for generations.
Karl Sakas can’t help you with the former (well, maybe he can – he’s an agency coach after all), but his book The In-Demand Marketing Agency can definitely help you with the latter. For Sakas believes that one of the best ways for you to get clients (or, inbound leads as he prefers to call them) is by getting out in the world and talking about yourself. And one of the best ways to put yourself in situations where you can talk about yourself out in the world is by having a plan for doing just that so you can get really good at it. And this book will help you do that.
How? Frankly, by approaching it like a smart advertising agency would approach it for a client. Take, for example, the advice he gives around getting the speaking engagements themselves. Let’s start with “Think like an event organizer”. The event organizer is the person running the show you want to speak at. Sakas advises – wisely – to think about what their particular event is about, what it’s needs are, and fill them accordingly. How similar is this to agencies telling their clients to think about what needs the customer has, not just that you want them to buy your product, and to position accordingly?
Or “Pitch an outline” – in other words, don’t just show up and expect to be loved; articulate a plan, sell an idea, and hit “send”. But isn’t that sort of just another way of saying “create a targeted ad to them that compellingly explains your features in terms of their needs?”
Or even “fine tune your bio”? We are forever telling clients that “one-size fits all” advertising doesn’t work – while filling our pitch decks (and press releases, and conference bios) with boilerplate “who we are” profiles.
Think like your customer. Have a plan. Customize your message. You can do that, right? Theoretically you’re doing it every day.
Amidst this advice, Sakas also provides nuts and bolts information and insight about things like hardware and software, names of online services to use, checklists for events, and even templates for speaker agreements and self-promotion Some of this may feel a bit overwhelming, of course, and you don’t have to do everything Sakas suggests. On the other hand, he’s been doing this for decades, so there’s probably a good reason (and bad story) behind every suggestion. Either way, the cumulative effect of all this technical information is to reinforce the validity of the strategic insights. Or said another way, anyone who can tell you which clicker he prefers and why he brings his own audio speaker (and which one), probably has enough experience to advise you on how to get the gigs in the first place.
Is this the only way to promote your agency, to become, as Sakas writes, an ‘in-demand marketing agency”? Of course not. Not everyone wants to hoof around the country – not everyone has the time, not everyone has the personality for it. But will it tell you how to do it if you want to? Yes. And more importantly, will it give you the opportunity to be as thorough and precise with whatever approach you do want to use? Undoubtedly.
And the value of that for an industry that is so bad and so cavalier about promoting itself, is exceptional.
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