Shaping an Agency, Chapter Two

Agency agreement signed, sealed, and delivered, we set forth with the ATX communications plan. Brian knew this would be a real test-not just for the company, but for himself.  He had always exceeded expectations for a variety of clients of most shapes and sizes, but the ATX project represented the biggest fish we had hauled in thus far.

“Now comes the hard part—delivering,” he said with a nervous energy that I liked. Brian’s pre-project ritual always involved removing doubts, building the team’s confidence in each other, and, as with this statement, showing proper respect for the task at hand. For him, each project was a chance to renew and re-define his value and our value at Trig for clients. “We’ve got to run this thing really tight—like we’re managing a major publication, with multiple distribution channels and content avenues.”

I agreed. My own project management sensibility, coupled with a quality I’m always working on, leadership, told me that I should take the reins and give Brian more responsibility and accountability than ever before.  “I think that’s the right idea.  I’ll act as the publisher, working with Grant to define strategy and build buy-in around it, and then you come in where you do best—lining out all the tactics and milestones for each month.”

“And what about Basecamp?” 

“I think our fearlessness, and pitching Basecamp as a collaboration tool, was a real difference-maker in our landing the contract,” I explained.  “Let’s bring Grant into the loop each week through Basecamp, as promised.   I don’t ever question our ability to do great work that’s on-time and within budget, and I think this level of transparency will really resonate with him.  We’ll build a weekly strategy, hit the milestones, and agree with him on the next steps.”

“You’re right,” Brian replied. “And I’m willing to bet the farm that this will feed the most important aspect of the relationship—trust.  I need him to trust me and trust us, as a group, to deliver.  He’s told us over and over again over these last few weeks how the ‘silk stocking’ agencies have disappointed him.  He was pitching a wad of money at them, and then waiting, waiting, and waiting each month to see what would become of it in terms of branding, PR, and advertising work.  That’s the worst part of doing business—the waiting—and it makes you question your investment every time.”

We began to construct the tasks and timelines of the communications plan—securing virtual real estate, refreshing logos for social media avatars, and developing a company news/blog page on the site. According to the plan, we would spend the first month building the communications infrastructure, and the next five months focusing on content and campaign development. And along the way, Brian kept reminding me, we had to figure out how to completely capture the voice of ATX in the marketplace.

“The best way to capture the voice of the company is to talk to as many people as we can,” Brian told Grant during our first weekly strategy call.  And with that, we scheduled as many interviews as we could—with company leaders across multiple operational areas, as well as external territory reps and dealers in the ATX family.

I marveled at how each successive interaction with different constituencies within the ATX framework had multiple positive outcomes.  We went into each call with a goal of simply understanding the company a little better, but we found that people responded with greater enthusiasm and engagement than we could have imagined.  “This is a long time coming,” one of the territory reps told us. “This is a great company, and it’s my job to get out the word.  It’s wonderful to have you guys out there telling our story.”

“People are excited around here,” Grant relayed to us. “From the top down and all across the company.  There’s a real narrative here that we’ve been trying to get out, but when you don’t have a cohesive plan, one that actually gets done week in, week out, it feels disjointed. Now, our people and our dealers can see that we have a plan and are executing it in a way that our brand lays out high expectations for year after year.”

“I’m delighted to hear that,” I replied.  “I know for Brian and me both, that enthusiasm is palpable, and it’s only the beginning. We forget sometimes all of the intangible benefits that come from doing marketing communications work.  You’re getting your story out there, sure, and it’s driving more hits to the website, mixing in with the sales activity to produce better results in the field, too, but those intangibles are just awesome.  When you see people this engaged, already, whether it’s Jeremy in the design department liking our Facebook posts or dealers jumping all over the newsletter, it’s huge. “

“My thoughts exactly,” Grant concurred.  “Enthusiasm fuels engagement, engagement fuels productivity, and productivity is going to keep all of us in a job around here for a long time!”

I thought back to when Brian and I had been building our own plan—the recipe for our own dog food—a couple of years ago.  Then I remembered that the resulting enthusiasm and engagement—largely my own—had so easily spread as we had grown the company in the subsequent time.  I remembered how it felt like we were bragging at first, and how I came to realize that the whole reason people need to see content from a company was to get a sense of its character and wrap their brains around the work it does. 

I would have been just fine liking our dog food on our own, but the fact that many others now liked it, in the service of a great company like ATX, was fine by me.