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By Colin Kinsella

CEO, Havas Media North America

Securing a Solid Future for Your Agency

In the decades that I’ve been running agencies, I’ve witnessed—and instigated—massive change in how agencies operate. Much of that change has been dictated by market forces: the rise of new data sources; tech; shifts in ecosystems (e.g. decrease of print, rise of podcasts, GDPR/privacy requirement, etc…), and the talent needed to anticipate and deliver leveraging these forces.

While agencies must move quickly to address clients’ needs, they also have to be at the bleeding edge of what’s possible and stay modern. At Havas Media, it’s the makeup of our people that has spurred and inspired our fresh approaches to deliver for our clients and each other.

Here are a few lessons I’ve learned along the way.

Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast

To paraphrase the late management guru Peter Drucker, who’s said to have coined that phrase, culture is the most important factor in creating collaborative success in a company, particularly an agency. Get the culture right and your team will go further and in a more coordinated fashion—it’s the most important job of a leader. It also happens to be the hardest to get right because it’s difficult to codify or measure, like the flip side of the leadership coin: strategy (even harder is changing an entrenched culture, but that’s a discussion for another time). As Harvard Business Review article summarized: “When properly aligned with personal values, drives, and needs, culture can unleash tremendous amounts of energy toward a shared purpose and foster an organization’s capacity to thrive.” Don’t underestimate the power of personal energy, which can exert a huge influence on culture.

An aligned strategy and a clear roadmap to accomplish it must sit alongside culture. I devote a good amount of my time as CEO balancing the two so that we deliver effectively on all fronts for our clients and partners.

Be Generous with Your Time and Attention

These factors can contribute significantly to a healthy culture. As a leader, it’s incumbent on me to set an example for my senior leadership, who in turn must set it for their teams — and so on. Why is it so important? That simply courtesy communicates that you genuinely care about them and shows respect. What seem like niceties can make the difference in whether an employee goes the extra mile, or a client affords you the benefit of the doubt.

I strive to give my time, engagement and spirit. When you and I converse, you get my undivided attention. I respond to people’s phone calls and emails promptly. These notions seem obvious, but it surprises me how few leaders do not set such examples.

Be in It to Win It

Borrowing from the legendary lottery slogan, never go into a pitch thinking there’s any chance you won’t win. Even if you don’t walk away with the client, knowing your team gave their all is all we leaders can ask of you. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, losing spectacularly can actually bring a team together. You likely will have learned from any mistakes and will be even more resolved to win that next one.

Hire With Four Traits in Mind

The key to any agency’s success and culture is hiring the best possible people for the jobs at hand. I look for these four things in new hires — in part because they’re fundamentals that can’t be fudged or faked:

  1. Grit: You want people who won’t fold under pressure, which is ever-present in agency work.
  2. Passion: Fire in the belly is a must and can easily be spotted when faked.
  3. Intellect: Smarts should mix with instinct.
  4. Empathy: You want to work with others who have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes.

These essentials can’t be taught — you either have them or you don’t, but you can make improvements. Pay attention to these fundamentals, and you will be well on your way to building a stronger agency bolstered by a healthy culture that delivers for clients and employees.

Why Do Agencies Have a Bright Future?

We fulfill a clear need in the discipline of marketing, for a number of reasons. We are built to address any and all client needs and will always ask the crucial, sometimes tough, questions—pushing back or being an independent sounding board.  By serving as outside counsel, we can deliver objectivity and maintain investment in our clients’ successes. When our clients win, we win. With proverbial skin in the game, we unite with our clients to deliver a group culture that delivers outsized results.

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