Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Chapter 5: Agent Zero, and why all agencies should read it

Being on Twitter as an advertising agency person can be kind of strange sometimes. On the one hand, working at an agency these days means wanting to keep your clients as informed as they possibly can be about everything that's going on everywhere. On the other hand, staying informed also means realizing that we are increasingly in a "do it yourself" era. Thriving as an advertising agency while nurturing your clients can be a difficult balance act sometimes. Teach, but learn to let go. Educate, but point out your own skills.

This was on my mind as I set out to read chapter 5 of Trust Agents, which is called Agent Zero. Perhaps that is why it occurred to me, about halfway through the chapter, that "Agent Zero" is really a chapter for and about agencies today. Of course, it probably was not intended to be that way, but let me show you what I mean.

Awareness: The first part of the chapter talks about awareness and the many meanings of awareness. Awareness of your own surroundings. People being aware of you. You being aware of people being aware of you. This is all in relation, primarily, to the online world, but awareness is perhaps one of the most important traits an agency must have today. Indeed, it is essential. An agency must be aware of everything every client is facing. This means that events in the world that are totally outside of the scope of an agency's business might suddenly become the agency's business. An agency must strive to show clients that there is an awareness there. After all, an agency is in the service industry and is trying to sell a service. To prove to clients that you legitimately care, you must show that you are aware. Agencies must be aware of everything that is going on technologically and in the marketing world. And of course, agencies must be aware of what is going on with other agencies.

Attention: The second major topic in the chapter is attention. How to get it, how to pay it. This goes hand in hand with awareness, but is more deep. Reading the news isn't enough. Reading the news and thinking about all of your clients is paying attention. A lot of the chapter focuses on how an individual can gain attention through online social networks like Facebook or Twitter, but then there is a section about meetups and the importance of face-to-face meetings. For an agency, this is absolutely key. A really good agency will strive to be present at major trade shows. This signals to clients that you are paying attention not just to your pretty booth graphics but also to what is going on in the industry. Is the trade show dead or crowded? How is your client's booth traffic? For an agency, paying attention can earn you attention. Alerting a client that an ad was placed really well in a leading publication is good news for everybody. Alerting a client that a competitor is talking trash can stave off major problems and prove that you are an invaluable team member. Attentiveness, following on the coattails of awareness, can be a game-changer for agencies today.

Influence: This is where Brogan and Smith talk about being the priest and building the church. There are two ways that agencies can do this today.

1) Be prepared to offer insightful advice regarding all of the new "stuff" going on right now. If your client, who is in the field a lot, wants to know if he or she should get a Droid, the new iPhone 4, or a Blackberry, you should be able to answer contextually with his or her best interests in mind. If a client calls and says, "My competitor is on Twitter, I want to start an account now," be ready to show your expertise by saying, "Well, I don't think they're really using Twitter effectively. I think you should wait." If that's the right answer.

2) Agencies can also work as an "agent zero" because agencies have the networking capacity to incorporate the talent of many different people not just within the agency but also externally. An agency works to build relationships with programmers, printers, artists, computer repair shops, and much more. The successful agency can use this network to influence a client to work with them, or to sway a client to try a new kind of project that will be a giant step forward.

Reputation: In the chapter, reputation is again about the online world. Who are you linking to? Who are you recommending? One thing agencies can follow word-for-word from this chapter is to get on the LinkedIn ship. The questions and answers section, participation in groups, and other methodologies are excellent ways to build reputation while also showing you know how to do so online. Reputation can also be built and improved in the offline world, and for agencies, this is key. In a marketing world that is changing rapidly, agencies need to differentiate themselves, preferably in a good way. What will you build your reputation on?

Authority: It is hard for an agency to do what Brogan and Smith advise and "make your own game." Again, working in an agency is a service business. Making your own game can equate to not listening or not caring about what the client wants. When an agency wants to build authority, there is one really important step to take. Propose things, execute well, and achieve success. Agencies strive for perfection because nothing else is acceptable. The difference between a person who just loaded Photoshop at home and a professional designer is immeasurable. Yet it is not tangible. When that professionally designed ad wins a Reader Study award or increases web traffic - tangibility achieved. Agencies should also strive to walk the walk, not talk the talk. If an agency is preaching that websites need to be revamped, that agency should have a site they are proud of. If an agency is preaching that Social Media is the next best thing after buttered bread, they should be able to talk about it. Intelligently.

The lessons in this chapter, again, are geared more towards people looking to build an online reputation as a trust agent. However, to me, the lessons work perfectly as a "must do" list for today's agency.

What do you think?

Image by Marija Rajkovic. http://www.sxc.hu/profile/grim12

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