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Five questions agencies need to ask themselves from Berkeley’s Paul Stallard

Spring is in the air and it is time to take stock. Here are five questions all agencies should now ask themselves.

Do we have the right clients?
New business is the heartbeat of a growing communications agency, especially in an environment where retainers are being squeezed and more and more clients prefer the campaign/project approach. If you sit back and think that you’ve more than enough work on, you can almost guarantee it’ll be the week when a couple of clients put you on notice.

Most agencies worth their salt have a new business function and, in particular, a new business database that exists in real time and is constantly being nurtured. This is great and to be applauded, but I believe you need to take a step back and analyse what you’re doing, at least once a year.

In short, are you targeting the right businesses and do you have the right clients? Or are they clients that don’t pay enough for the services rendered, are difficult to work with, and in an area where you don’t have expertise? There are a million and one reasons why a client could be the wrong one.

This sounds obvious, but you’d be shocked how often agencies continue working with the wrong type of client simply because of a name or legacy.

What do we offer?
What service do you offer your clients and has it evolved over the past year? Are your clients interested in all of your services or just some or one of them? Does the communications approach you now take, fit the client you’re working with? Clients and agencies evolve. Has the relationship evolved at the same speed? Is it still a match made in heaven or a marriage of convenience?

Who is our ideal client?
This isn’t who would you want to work with, but who is right for your agency. It’s an understanding of the size of business that hits your sweet spot, the type of spend (some clients can simply be too big for an agency, as well as being too small), the job title, the type of spokesperson you get to work with (do they have a country specific one?) and the sector they work in. Understanding who your perfect client would be can help to narrow the field but also focus the mind, ensuring you’re always targeting the right type of business.

Why would they choose us?
Now you’ve identified what your dream client looks like, next consider why they’d choose you as their partner over your competitors. You need to evaluate the competition, understand what they’re offering and work on what will make you stand out. Is it proven results, digital capabilities, the ability to work in their office or simply having a senior team available at their beck and call? Understanding what these clients value is an important part of the new business process. Just as listening is, when you get the chance to speak to the right contact.

What are we doing to generate more?
Armed with all of this information, what are you doing about it? All too often I speak to senior people in communication agencies who don’t differentiate between a new business and marketing plan. They are closely linked but not the same thing. The other fatal excuse I hear is that “we’re just so busy, we’re simply reacting to what comes in”. It’s far too scattergun for my liking and also highly questionable.

The irony is the communications industry is traditionally bad at evaluating its own business needs. It’ll generate great coverage, produce beautiful websites, video, and leads for a client, at the expense of doing it for itself. But if your agency is to grow and thrive, this needs to be addressed. These questions are a good starting point.

Article written by Paul Stallard, international managing director at integrated communications agency Berkeley

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