How to make your business matter

If you ask the average person in adland what her favourite bird is, she is likely to say a loerie. Not surprising at all. Every advertising agency aspires to caging a few Loeries every spring. Creativity is our lifeblood and winning a few Loerie Awards every year is essential to our wellbeing.

Another bird

The loerie bird has, in essence, become the hallmark of creative excellence in our industry. But what if I told you there is another bird out there, of equal significance? A bird that can teach us a few valuable lessons about running a successful business?

Ostrich by Alistair Mokoena

Enter the ostrich, the world’s largest bird. It boasts a tall and imposing figure, making it the leader of the feathery pack. Size talks to scale. Scale, if properly harnessed, results in efficiencies, stature and has a magnetic effect on talent and new business.

Size also telegraphs that you are “tried and tested”, which is important to many clients. A small boutique agency might seem like an alluring proposition because of its agility and its nimble nature but every business owner eventually wakes up to the fact that size does count.

We have all experienced the leaking-bucket syndrome when it comes to revenue. It needs constant replenishment. Without growth, you are dead.

Growth and scale are inevitable

So, actually, growth and scale are inevitable, unless you decide to shift your strategy from growth to maintenance. But at what point do you draw the line or close the door on growth?

The ostrich has the largest eye of any land animal. This allows it to have the best possible bird’s eye view, which helps with scanning the environment for danger and opportunities, a feature that all businesses need.

Our ability to scan the business environment in which we operate is crucial to our survival. Our ability to predict consumer trends and client needs, before they happen, creates daylight between us and the competition.

Continue to close shop

Many businesses continue to close shop, thanks to their inability to predict the future and therefore reinvent themselves or reposition themselves for a new reality. Agencies that previously dismissed the need for integration or, worse still, dismissed digital migration as a fad, are now licking their wounds and reminiscing about the good ol’ days when advertising was lucrative.

Ostriches have an impressive wing span of two metres, made up of beautiful feathers. These wings fulfill multiple functions.

Apart from the obvious decorative value of the feathers, the wings are used to conserve heat and to attract attention during mating season. They also serve as navigational rudders. Talk about sweating one’s assets!

It’s just not efficient

There is an important lesson here about extracting maximum value from staff by deploying the same individual across different disciplines. The days of specialists who operate in functional silos are over; it’s just not an efficient way to do things.

Small boutique agencies are good at employing multi-skilled multi-taskers. This makes for flexibility, agility and speed. Not only does multi-skilling open up new revenue streams but it is also good for keeping great talent stimulated and fulfilled in their roles.

An ostrich’s long, strong legs make it not only the fastest bird on earth but also serve as a weapon against predators. It also has three stomachs, allowing it to store food and water for longer. This point talks to resilience and strength.

Rainy days are coming

Every agency knows that rainy days are coming; however, very few agencies have ‘insurance’ against the harsh reality of account losses. This is because they focus only on traditional advertising services instead of diversifying their revenue streams to capture a larger share of their clients’ businesses.

Every agency needs to have three stomachs. In other words, we need to create more than one revenue pool to help us, not only to weather the storms but also to remunerate talent well and invest in our sustainability.

An important caveat is to grow revenue without adding to your agency’s headcount.

Creating new revenue sources

But how does one create new revenue pools? Ostrich products such as meat, eggs and leather are a great source of revenue. For ad agencies, the obvious product is advertisements but we need to think more broadly if we are to drive exponential revenue growth.

Disciplines such as training, design, events and consulting are often overlooked by many traditional advertising agencies. These can be packaged into branded products.

I’m not suggesting a box-ticking exercise where an agency tries to be all things to all people; I’m rather agitating for a systems-thinking approach to brand communication, which helps you see a client’s business as a system of drivers and outcomes.

Work in harmony

All the parts of a marketing mix must work in harmony to maximise impact. If we are going to be held accountable for brand equity scores, then surely we should aim to control as many levers as possible that influence these scores? Granted, there’s honour in being purist about things, but commercial success requires us to develop complementary skills which afford us greater influence on the marketing mix.


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