I have a theory that there is only one difference between great agencies and average agencies. Intention.
Many people will say talent or process or money. All those things play a role but are powerless if the ship is steering away from what is important. The work. The pressure on agencies is enormous and it is easy to lose focus. I have been inside so called B grade agencies and the only difference between them and great agencies is the work they have thought of are still scamps on a wall or in their bottom drawer. Great agencies make their greatest work, average agencies don’t.
Intention is important for an agency because making great work is hard. An agency needs to make that hardship as natural as possible. That comes from a culture of belief in ideas. And that comes from the leadership’s intention. For many that manifests in having high standards but that is not enough. Where it all has to start is with a shared objective and a burning passion to get there.
You might say that’s obvious. Well, look around the world then and tell me why so many agencies get it wrong. The simple reason is they have forgotten the business they are in. When that happens an agency becomes like a planet that has lost its gravity . It may take a month or a year but slowly the people, the ideas and the money drift off into space. Granted, you can have bad luck but that happens to every agency, even the great ones. What keeps them strong is their core belief. And I am not just talking about words or pithy phrases.
I have in my career often heard the powers that be talk about culture as a soft issue. And I have seen those same people grasping for it when the agency’s gravity stops. By then, it is too late.
This is the biggest lesson I have learnt running an agency. In the darkest days, when the hardest choices arrive and when everything makes no sense never forget the agency’s and your original intention.
It is your North Star.