One of the questions that we get most frequently at Klick, is why are we so obsessed with growth? Frankly, it’s a surprising question because growth is the engine that drives opportunity for people within an agency. A timeless truth is that the right talent is highly ambitious. Regardless of whether they are motivated by a promotion, challenging problems to solve, learning new things, working with interesting people, or even switching disciplines; these are all opportunities that are fundamentally enabled by growth. As a result, growth is a pre-requisite for talent engagement.
So what happens when an agency is flat? The answer is that there is really no such thing. Agency relationships may be durable enough that the revenue “appears” flat, but in reality without growth the agency is actually rotting. You see, the lack of growth means that the best talent is lacking the opportunity they crave, which means that eventually they will leave to get their needs satisfied.
Those environments that have their mojo are a magnet for talent. Because in the talent business, clients follow the talent and that’s a very virtuous cycle for the winning agencies. In reality, the dynamics are more complex as culture, meaningful work, people investment and great leadership all need to also be orchestrated for that magical and magnetic mojo. But we’ll cover each of those topics in future postings.
Most people will intuitively understand and acknowledge the above. Here’s what many miss though: not all growth is created equal.
Growth needs to be organic to provide opportunity. You see, organic growth is pretty simple to understand. An agency has a talented and well organized team that is in high demand. The group is effective at capitalizing on this demand and because of the strength of it’s team, it is equally effective at delivering on the client need. This leads to improvements in reputation. That leads to increased demand, and that demand can be supplied as people want to work for the winners. Although simple to understand intellectually, it is actually incredibly challenging to execute.
But most growth in the agency world is actually totally artificial. You see, our industry is characterized by growth created by M&A activity. That growth doesn’t have any of the attributes explained as prerequisites for talent engagement. Take the example of a 200 person agency acquiring a 100 person agency. Have any new positions been created? No. Have any new clients been added by the transaction? No. Are there new challenges for the team to solve? Only lousy ones like political battles, how to increase “efficiency” to cover debt interest, how to communicate this as a benefit to customers when it’s actually a distraction, and how to keep the team motivated in light of the fleeting opportunity for personal advancement.
Contrast that example of a 200 person agency, with a scenario where the group has grown organically by 50%. That means a balanced need for new positions at every level. That means new work is available for people desiring change. That means new challenges for those driven to solve such problems. Most importantly, the energy created by all the opportunity has every talented professional recognize that they are solely limited by their ambitions. That’s truly motivating…Ohhh, and it’s a lot more fun to know you’re on the winning team!!
The Takeaway. All marketers should ask themselves what is my agency’s organic growth trajectory? If the number is anything lower than 30%, your agency cannot be home to the absolute best talent. Then ask yourself: why are you settling for the B Team?