Position Paper: Advantages of a Downturn

The heady days of automatic success are long gone, and since late 2001, marketing firms we run across have achieved success the old fashioned way: they’ve earned it. I would even argue that the leanness many firms have experienced has been good for them.

Why, you say? Sometimes it’s only the inevitability of your situation that provides the courage to make those tough choices. When you later look back on the decisions you are making now, you might realize that this period was a watershed that set you on a path of great prosperity. The vast majority of our clients have found that to be the case.

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Position Paper: Handling Capacity Issues

Too many times our clients have called and said something like: “We are so busy, it looks like it’s time to add someone. Can you help us think through the right person to add, and how their role should be structured?” We usually back up and say: “Let’s walk through whether you really need someone. First, why are you adding someone?” “Well, we are very busy.” The conversation continues in that vein, as we probe for the real reasons. Often the principal feels like they are being pushed toward growth because clients need more stuff done. That’s not a good reason.

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Position Paper: Hobby, Job, or Company

Which one do you have? The lines are blurred, obviously, and sometimes the answer is not intuitive. If you have less freedom and more responsibility than ever, you might very well have a company. If you enjoy it, you certainly don’t have a job. And if you have visions of getting rich, you might very well have a hobby. Just kidding!

If you want to be taken seriously, you should have a company. And it doesn’t matter if you have no employees or dozens of them. But if you think of what you do as a business, you’ll do more planning, craft a compelling positioning for the marketplace, and think quite differently about the financial component of what you do.

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Position Paper: If I Could Change Just This One Thing

“If I could only change X about my business, I’d be fine.” You know what I mean, right? You’ve said these things.

“If I had a different client base.”

“If I had different employees.” 

“If I were located in a different city.”

“If I didn’t have this partner.” Or “If I could find a partner.”

But here’s my favorite: “If we could just get a little bigger, add some employees, throw in a few great clients, we’d get past this hump and start to really make money.”

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Position Paper: Making an In-House Department Respectable

A large percentage of the marketing community works at in-house departments within large corporations. The designers and illustrators and photographers and writers and strategists who choose to work in those settings do so for the opportunity, structure, benefits, predictable hours, career paths, and greater collaboration.

If you doubt that a large percentage of designers, for example, are not working for small firms, attend any conference in this field and just look at the attendee list. But in spite of their large numbers, they are underserved in some ways. All the craft topics are applicable, but there is very little advice on how to run a marketing department. How should it be structured? What systems will ensure good work that is also timely? How should that department be marketed?

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Position Paper: Eight Introspective Boundaries for Principals

The notion to write about this comes from the fact that there’s been more merger/acquisition (M/A) activity in this field recently than I’ve ever seen in any six-month period. What’s especially notable is that it’s occurring in a difficult economic climate.

For background, over the last 15+ years I’ve been the lead advisor on nearly 150 transactions, crafting 700+ valuations in the process. (If you’d like to use the valuation formula in your buy/sell agreement, you are welcome to do so for free.)

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Position Paper: Truth about Making Money in a Marketing Firm

You really have no business starting a business and not making good money, eventually. Money itself is just a tool, for good or bad, but when you start a business you’re declaring your intent to be profitable (after paying yourself a fair wage). Hopefully you’ll make money in an ethical manner, fully understanding the power (for good) that it can have.

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Position Paper: What You’ll Need to Worry about in the Near Future

What will the next couple of years look like at your firm? Before answering that question, let me list my assumptions: that you are competent, that you are not working in one of the very few areas that is not doing well, and that you have entrepreneur’s disease.

If you’ve had your head down just getting things done, you may not have realized how well advertising, design, public relations, and interactive firms are doing these days. With very few exceptions, principals are finally getting back to the point where they can be pickier about what clients they work for.

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Position Paper: Enforceable Non-Compete

How do you keep key departing employees from hurting your business relationships? You could ask them to sign an agreement restricting their ability to compete for a specified period of time after they are terminated. These may be called Restrictive Covenants or Non-Compete Agreements.

There are two basic kinds of restrictive covenants. The traditional “non-compete” prohibits the employee from competing against the company in the same business in a certain geographic area for a specific period of time. The more limited “non-soliciting” or “non-servicing” covenant allows an employee to keep working in the same business, but prohibits the employee from soliciting business from or rendering services to the company’s clients for a specified period of time.

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Position Paper: You Are Not a Public Company

Are you modelling your activities after the public companies in the news all the time? You might double check those business assumptions occasionally to be sure they are leading you in the right direction. We need to filter the steady messages that inform our actions to discard those that will take us in directions contrary to our own goals.

One example is the distinction between how publicly traded companies are run and how your privately held firm should be run. Not recognizing those differences can create heartache and confusion. Here are four assumptions you might want to avoid when emulating publicly traded companies.

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