More On Branding An Agency

Last month, I posted about Modernista’s statement on its website: “Modernista is not for everyone.” (Although they recently changed their site from the Webby award-winning “overlay” format to a safer one that’s full of words about their full range of services.)

Anyone who watches Mad Men saw Don Draper issue a similar statement this season when he took out a letter stating that Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce would not work for cigarette accounts. Setting aside the moral dubiousness of being the Lucky Strike agency one moment, then taking a moral stand the next, Don essentially put a stake in the ground and said, “this is the kind of agency we are. Take it or leave it.” (Apparently, Jay Chiat, among others, ran similar ads on tobacco back in the day.)

As Greg has pointed out, “Look at the ABOUT US section on most agency sites and it will say, ‘We are a full-service marketing communications agency, specializing in broadcast advertising, digital media, corporate branding and public relations.’” The same is true of most agency videos. They’ll talk about changing media (duh), the need to make lasting, meaningful relationships with consumers (no kidding), and that social media has shifted conversations blah blah blah blah. We rarely do a good job of distinguishing our own agencies from all the others out there (ironic, since building memorable brands is our job).

Here’s a video from Firstborn that says pretty much everything most agency websites say (client roster, quick portfolio of work, importance of technology, a sense of the agency’s culture).

It conveys all of this without the use of a narrator or flashy titles. I think it does a pretty good job. At the very least, it makes me feel something about the agency (isn’t that what we try to do with most of our work—get someone to feel something?).

What do you think?

Modernista Is Not For Everyone


If you go to Modernista’s Website, you find a unique and inspiring message. “Modernista is not for everyone.”

Many agencies will take a shot at any client they think they can win. But an agency with a good sense of who they are and who they want to be realizes that they can’t be the right agency for every client. Like a brand, they have a character. Taking on the wrong clients will dilute that character pretty quickly.

Understanding what your agency’s brand is can be just as important as understanding your clients’ brands. But, as Tim Williams points out in Take A Stand For Your Brand, agencies can be surprisingly bad at defining and understanding their own brand. We tell our clients they can’t be everything to everyone. We would be wise to heed our own advice.

The Pitch

I just wrapped up a new business pitch and was reminded once again of how different pitch life is from regular advertising life. Here’s a few things to expect when you’re called upon to pitch new business.

1) Hours = crazy. Very crazy. If work hours were normally like this, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. But with a pitch, you have a date that you’re working toward. There’s always an end in sight. So it’s easier to dedicate everything you’ve got to it.

2) Team dynamic. It will get stressful, people will get pissed at each other and feelings will be hurt, but a team that works well together realizes these bumps are part of the process, quickly pushes through them and gets it done nonetheless.

3) Range of ideas. An agency is much more likely to take in a slightly wider range of ideas to a pitch than they might for a current client. They’ll blow everything out into every medium, even if the client hasn’t asked for it. This is because it’s pretty common for a client to pick an agency based on its thinking rather than a specific campaign. So showing a breadth of thinking is sometimes more important than getting the campaign exactly right.

4) Level of finish. While agencies might present with rough marker comps and a mood board to an existing client, pitch work will be executed as if it were going into a portfolio. Storyboards will be tight, professional illustrations or photo comps, or even an edited video. Print should look almost ready for press. This all takes a lot of time, and the craft becomes very important.

5) Pitch theater. Each agency has its own style, but it’s always very intentional. From being as choreographed and rehearsed as a stage production to simply putting a really smart person in front of the client and letting him or her present from a booklet, how the work is presented is often as important as what is presented. What will the room look like? Will work be on boards or on a screen? How will the work be brought to life? What will the leave-behind look like?

6) The winner. An enormous amount of time, money and energy is spent pitching new business, and only one agency will have anything to show for it. This can be a morale killer for the losing agencies. The thing to remember is that clients select agencies for all kinds of reasons. It might be the work, it might be the chemistry with the team or the strategic thinking. It might be the name of the agency, or the name of one of its leaders. Or, as happens often, one of the people at one of the agencies might already have a relationship with the client, giving them a leg up. All you can do it put your best foot forward, work your ass off and hope for the best.