Ad Agencies: Independence does not mean having to go it alone

Ad Agency networks offer many benefits for small to midsize independent advertising agencies. 

This is a guest post written by my friend,  Peter Gerritsen, president of Transworld Advertising Agency Network better known as TAAN, the oldest and among the largest ad agency networks in the world, with 52 member agencies operating in 32 different countries.

Peter Gerritsen TAAN

Peter Gerritsen, president of TAAN

Not a single person in this business can truly say they do it all by themselves.  We all work with many different resources, vendors, staff, clients, media, consultants, friends, mentors, advisors…and the list goes on. Plus, in this age of exploding social media, we are connected to just about everyone imaginable. You are your own living, breathing network hub. We share just about anything with anyone.

But are you truly open about everything about your business with just about anyone on that infinite list? Do you share details about your business? Come on, answer honestly, do you tell your Twitter followers all about your struggles with balance sheet issues, or that confidential opportunity to secure that big client away from a competitor. You probably don’t share some of this inside info with your own staff, let along outside your office walls.

Internal versus external partnerships

You may be lucky enough to share your business with partners. When organized properly, it has huge merits for everyone. You, your partners, the agency. A strong relationship gives you a forum to share ideas and responsibilities. But what often happens is that the partners rely only on each other to look into the future for valuable evaluation. It will work for a while, but still needs outside stimuli to mix into the caldron of innovation that keeps you in front. You need to participate outside the agency to gather your mental ingredients.

You have to get out more

A number of years ago, I met a well-respected and very successful Founder/CEO of a great independent agency. I had seen him at a number of the same events I was attending. I also knew that he was a member of a network very similar to the one I belonged to. I asked him why he was away from his office so much traveling to all these meetings. He smiled and told me, “

My job is to run the business. But my most important role as leader the agency is to be the scout. I gather intelligence and new ideas, and bring them back into the agency and share them with my team. It is the only way we can best see what our future could be, and how we can get there.” 

His answer solidified what I think so many agency folks are missing. We all should invest in outside input from any and all sources. It isn’t only about sitting at a desk and reading, following, and searching the internet from the office. Attend conferences, workshops, and club functions.

Investing in the agency

There are essentially three categories of external learning groups that all have merit in building your success:

  • Trade Shows and Industry Functions. Growing the agency by investing in client business knowledge and your work.
  • Conferences and Seminars. Growing the business by investing in the agency and your team.
  • The independent Network. Growing the agency by investing in the business and most importantly – you.

The club circuit

Industry Associations, Community Networks, Business Clubs, Professional Advisory Panels, and Trade Groups are all good and valuable. They offer plenty of networking opportunities. They are important for your agency, and worth your time and energy. But not necessarily for you – the agency owner/leader. These are organizations designed to find business, connect with resources, and frankly – make nice. And trade groups are for supporting the industry, pushing through key legislation, or defending business practices. These are very important for your business. But not always for you and the agency. Very rarely do any of these groups truly share the specific details of an idea. Why should they, after all the speaker is talking to a crowd of competitors.

The Power of a belonging to a Network

I believe every independent communications agency should participate in a network. There is power in sharing your knowledge and learning from others. Insights you will never get by reading books and blogs, or from attending trade shows and seminars. The concept of an open forum amongst your peers may sound as comfortable as going through a peer review for a master degree. But, if you are a part of the “right” group, it can be so valuable to you that you actually can’t wait until the next chance to stand up and open up amongst your “friends.” 

Sharing the Good, the Bad, and even the Ugly.

Be careful what you say, and to whom you say it. Opening up to a room full of like-minded entrepreneurs that work in your same profession tends to feel like a thousand fingers at the ready to tap out on their iPhones the inside scoop that will ruin you in an instant.

When good things happen to you, are you willing to give a competitor your confidential details as to why? Of course not! Then there is the sensitive subject of mistakes. We all make them. I’ve made my share of whoppers.

It quite the experience to sit amongst your peers and share in the pain of someone else’s huge screw-ups. Then to stand up and tell your own tale of stupidity. It’s cathartic to unload the bad stuff to your trusted friends in the business. They all understand your pain, because they share the same business issues. Each wants to help the other to not fall into the same trap. Plus, there is so much to learn from others – not only what went right, but also went totally wrong and how to avoid it.

Identify the network that fits you best

There are many different Communications Networks for you to consider. Financial focus, shared learning, Biz Dev groups, creative collaborations, management forums, collective capabilities associations. Then there is size of agency, ownership versus management, Local/national/global. There is one that fits your business, goals, and personality. All offer opportunities to make you better. You just need to determine your hierarchy of needs.

In my opinion, the most valuable network for the entrepreneurial marketing/advertising agencies owner has a combination of these attributes:

  • Peer-to-peer interaction. Owners and leaders of agencies are active participants within the group. They are not the same as you, but share enough commonality of interests to offer you new ways to think.
  • Shared capabilities and resources. The variety of size, type, location, skills, creativity could benefit your agency through learning and being a resource when needed.
  • Expertise and Experience. Members know stuff you don’t know. Or have done things you have considered, but are not sure how to proceed. The group also values the expertise you bring to the mix.
  • Leadership Counsel. There is an overall mission for the group, and seem to be driven forward in ways you want to go.
  • Strategic Opportunities. Members have clients that may require your agency’s special skills, or you see in others the possibility to tap into their team to complement your work with a client.

Determine the mix that is right for you. Then ask yourself this question —  “ Do I like spending time with them, and feel comfortable enough to openly share?”

Belonging to a network is like a unique partnership. It’s the experience of interactions with people and challenging ideas with like-minded souls who care as much as you do about building something great.

As the owner of an independent agency, joining the right network is about investing in you.

Follow Peter and TAAN on Twitter and also Facebook

Additional articles about ad agency networks that may be of interest:

About Michael Gass

Consultant | Trainer | Author | Speaker

Since 2007, he has been pioneering the use of social media, inbound and content marketing strategies specifically for agency new business.

He is the founder of Fuel Lines Business Development, LLC, a firm which provides business development training and consulting services to advertising, digital, media and PR agencies.

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