How To Position An Advertising Agency – Part I


But First: An Advertising Agency Survival Guide

Here is a comprehensive guide that will help your agency become a winner in today’s crazy advertising marketplace – The Advertising Agency Survival Guide.

Part I: The Advertising Agency Position – The Heart Of Your Agency And Reason For Being

An updated look at how to build a smart advertising agency position (for 2020)… Agencies are wondering how to position themselves in the current environment. Some thoughts before I get to the detail on how to position your agency.

  1. If you have really worked on and delivered on a smart advertising agency position in the past couple of years, do not toss it away because it might not be a perfect business development strategy for early 2020. For Example, if you ‘own’ the positioning / expertise in travel and hospitality do not totally back burner that hard fought for brand equity. Sure, this is a currently weak category! But, when it comes back, and it will, you want to be the leader.
  2. In the meantime, if you are an expert in a weak client category, you might / will need to find a, hopefully short-term, advertising agency position for the current coronavirus world. An example would be to become a very strategic thinker, insight-driven agency. Be the idea guys. Have ideas that relate to your current and future clients – meet the current needs. Do and deliver market research. Drive respect for your brains. use this to stay in touch. Valuable insights will not be viewed as ass being too ‘salesy’.

Need one simple but, believe me ahead of your compeitive agency curve… do some reasech and thinking abut the new Tik Tok advertising world. Here is a link.

One more, why don’t you get one of your folks to start a Tok Tok channel. but, please do not make it about your agency. i have a few ideas. need them?

Part 1

You’ve arrived at Part I of my three-part review of the art of advertising agency positioning. My perspective on this series is that you have to read all three parts to get the maximum benefit for your agency.

Read it all. As Enzo Ferrari would say: “Devi differenziare la tua agenzia. Per fare ciò, leggi tutte e tre le parti.”

Why start with Ferrari?

I think that Ferrari is a well-positioned brand (LOL, how’s that for an understatement!) Ferrari is known for its racing heritage, engineering, design and luxury. Everything they do supports their positioning and, importantly, sales.

At this point, you might be asking two questions.

  1. “What does Ferrari have to do with my advertising, digital or design agency?”

Well, your agency’s brand positioning needs to be as well designed and supported as Ferrari’s.

2. “Do I really need to hear yet another advertising agency business development consultant tell me that advertising agencies need to do a better job of positioning their agencies?”

Yes. Why? Because the great majority of marketing communications agencies look and sound too alike. Not sounding like the guy down the street will result in your driving a much more powerful agency

Before I get into the meat of the positioning issue, I’d like to help answer one of the most perplexing questions of our time:

 Is the term “Advertising Agency” still relevant?

Does the word “advertising” still mean anything? Is this what you should call your agency? Or, should you switch to digital agency, integrated agency, full-service agency, social media agency, marketing communications agency, brand design agency, interactive, experiential…? Yikes.

For an answer, let’s turn to big data since Google just might have the answer. According to search traffic, the answer is that “Advertising Agency” still works. Here are two charts that help us to understand the relative value of the term “Advertising.”

advertising agency positionAs you can see, the term “advertising agency” is searched on much more than digital or social media agency. In fact, advertising agency has approximately three-times the search activity than digital agency. We can argue the point about advertising vs. digital as being the future best term for marketing communications, but we can’t argue with the fact that people search on the word “advertising” more.

If you call yourself an “advertising agency” this is a good thing. By the way, even the shortened “ad agency” beats digital as well.

advertising agency positionThat’s the good news for advertising agencies. The bad news is that since 2004, the use of this term is decreasing at an alarming rate. For more on this trend, read Randall Rothenberg’s insightful article “The Definition of Advertising Has Never Been More Unclear” in AdWeek.

The Positioning Issue Opportunity

Now that we know what you should call yourself, how are you going to differentiate your advertising agency from the thousands of other agencies that are competing for client attention? The competition for creating differentiation is happening on a daily basis whether you are a global, regional or local agency. The competition is fierce. Brand confusion is fiercer. To imagine how a client type navigates (or doesn’t) your descriptive copy, take a look at the Schlock & Ho video comprised from “what we do” quotes from ad agency websites.

For more fuel, here’s a look at a handful of Twitter profiles for some San Francisco ad agencies. I find the character limitations of the Twitter profile enlightening.

@VenablesBell  Honest is clear-eyed and simple, Fearless holds us to a higher standard and Independence is the blunt, obvious ingredient we’ve built our agency on.

@DuncanChannon  A four-time Ad Age Agency of the Year. Advertising, media, strategy, design, experiential, social influencer and a penthouse bar all under one tin ceiling.

@WeAreArgonaut  We’re an advertising agency. We surprise and delight the world with work that drives business results and leaves a dent in culture.

@pereiraodell  Ideas that move people and business. (side note, ‘move’ was the positiong that i chose for my own west coast agency)

@GSP  We create things that reach millions and even billions, but seem to speak only to you.

Just for instructive fun, I’ve pruned a few favorites from how agencies describe how they are different.

  1. We’re all about being good. We do good work. We’re good to work with. We have a bunch of good people and we bring good ideas to our good clients.
  2. Nimble.
  3. Nimble and consultative.
  4. We sell ourselves as more nimble than the rest.
  5. While it sounds simple, what sets us apart is our commitment to client service – no matter who the client or whatever the task.
  6. We approach integration differently than others.
  7. More strategic than other agencies in our niche.
  8. Big city creative, small-town prices.
  9. We’ve become more marketing agnostic. We move fast. We take risks. We focus on getting it right, not being right.
  10. Our experience and skill set is unique.
  11. Smarter. Nicer. Cheaper.
  12. Our agency has been around for over 60 years…experience is our main selling point.
  13. Superior service, resulting from senior-staff involvement, face time with clients and status reporting.
  14. Our thinking and work are more effective.
  15. Our culture is not the traditional silo approach to the way our company operates. We are not that traditional old school agency.
  16. We are not a traditional agency–we are a hybrid.
  17. Different infrastructure.
  18. Smart strategy, distinctive design.
  19. Strategy focus.
  20. Smart people.

And…. my actual favorite: We make sure our clients know we’re not just Wii playing d-bags.

Why Is Ad Agency Brand Differentiation Important?

This is where things get a bit pedantic and, yes, I will admit, even obvious. Here are 7 reasons that having an agency positioning that’s different from the other 10 – 100 – 1,000 – 10,000 agencies in your category or vicinity is a good thing.

  1. What is your agency’s first impression? Chances are good that you may only have thirty to sixty seconds to deliver it… if you are lucky.
  2. How can you plan and manage your business without a clear brand position? What skills do you concentrate on, who do you recruit, what employees do you keep, what does your website look like and what’s the color of your waiting room couch?
  3. How do you run business development? Who should you pitch, what should you say, how do you sound different, how do you get the word out, what does your About page say, your blog, Twitter feed, LinkedIn profile, etc.
  4. If you are small and local, how do you position the agency to get large and national?
  5. If you are large and international how do you compete with Publicis-Omnicom?
  6. What award shows should you enter – and why? Cannes Lions, Arrows, D&AD, CLIO’s, CAANZ Axis, Webby’s, OMMA’s, WOMMY’s, EFFIE’s, Rosies, the Sheboygan ADDY’s?
  7. How do you position your agency for growth and inevitable change if you don’t have a starting point?

Final pedantic point. I think that this might be a good time to revisit Trout & Reis’s position on positioning.

“Positioning” is a game people play in today’s me-too market place.” Jack Trout in Industrial Marketing.

Positioning is “an organized system for finding a window in the mind.” Jack Trout and Al Reis “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.”

Keep Going: Parts II and III Are The Best Parts

On to Part II and Part III.

Now that you know how to position an advertising agency…

Let’s talk about growing your business. You are in a hurry, right?

Contact me now and take me up on my impossible to refuse a 15-minute Vito Corleone offer. 


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