How to Succeed By Ignoring Your Agency Advisor

By Jason Swenk on September 14, 2020

Are you questioning whether you should choose a niche? Do you know your why and your passion? Have you gotten some great agency advice but rather go with your gut? Sometimes you just have to disregard the advice in front of you and answer to your true purpose in order to succeed. Even if it means ignoring your agency advisor.

In this episode, we’ll cover:

  • How can an agency survive an owner’s personal tragedy?
  • When is ignoring your agency advisor OK to do?
  • Is it time for an agency rebrand?
  • Does your agency have Clark Griswold complex?

This week, I had the opportunity to chat with Brantley Payne, Partner/Creative Director at Uncommon a rebranded version of the agency where he started his career in 1999. Over time and a series of life-altering events, Brantley’s role at the agency evolved from art director to copywriter to creative director and eventually owner. He’s on the show to share what he’s learned about finding the agency’s North Star and why he chose to totally ignore his agency advisor’s advice. (Don’t worry, the advisor wasn’t me!)

How Can an Agency Survive an Owner’s Personal Tragedy?

In 2010, after 11 years at the (then) Glass Agency, Brantley was doing well in his creative positions but then thrown into something completely different and unique. The agency owner was diagnosed with a terminal illness and part of his legacy plans. Do you have a plan in place for serious injury, illness, or death?

At the onset of his illness, the owner set a plan in motion for the agency to put into a trust and become an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). The heads of Media, Accounts, and Creative (that’s Brantley) were to lead the daily operations of the agency. So they had all the responsibility, but just equal share of the rewards.

How did the agency survive and thrive during this time?

  1. Preserve what’s already in place. Brantley said their first goal was simply not letting the agency collapse. This meant continuing the same quality of work and meeting with all their clients to explain the situation and assure them of their future. Their first goal was to stabilize and maintain.
  2. Define what the future looks like. What will they stand for? What do they believe in? How will they grow? What does the growth trajectory look like? Above and beyond maintaining, they needed to think about how to achieve next-level growth.

After 5 years running the agency as an ESOP, Brantley and his now partners decided to start buying out the employee ownership. Brantley and his two partners haven’t looked back.

When Is Ignoring Your Agency Advisor OK?

After making the agency their own, Brantley and his partners hired an agency advisor to help them grow their business. Nope – it wasn’t me but I won’t hold it against him 🙂

Ultimately, the main piece of advice they received — one I don’t disagree — is to choose a niche. How many times have you heard me say it, right? But ultimately, Brantley and his partners decided to ignore it. That was 4 years ago and Uncommon is killing it everything from retail to safety to transit and more.

What they learned was their niche wasn’t a specific industry, it’s simply the underdogs who need their help. But, the real lesson was the exercise of going through the process. They learned who they are and who they aren’t. They discovered their passion — and having passion is the only way to succeed.

Now when taking on new clients, they asked themselves these questions:

  • Is this something we want?
  • Can we actually help?
  • Will we treated as partners by this client?
  • Are we passionate about this?

Is It Time for an Agency Rebrand?

Agencies are great at helping their clients with rebrands. But when it comes to helping ourselves with one it’s really hard!

In 2016 Brantley and partners decided it was time for a fresh start for the agency in order to reflect their passion. They changed the business name to Uncommon and created a video to explain what they’re about and what drives them forward. It inspires their work, their team, and even their clients.

A rebrand can be really hard to do for yourself. In fact, all inward reflection can be, right? It’s like my analogy with the frozen chicken and NASA. Sometimes you’re just too close to see what is holding you back. However, when you take a step back and look through a different lens you will make some amazing discoveries.

Does Your Agency Have Clark Griswold Complex?

I love this last piece of advice from Brantley. He referenced the scene in the movie Christmas Vacation when Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold has high expectations for his light display with a drumroll only to be disappointed when the lights don’t work and deflated when his family isn’t impressed by his hard work (watch the scene here).

Brantley says that’s what agencies tend to do with their clients. And we let ourselves get disappointed or deflated when the client isn’t as excited or impressed. (Like Clark’s family when the lights aren’t impressive.)

Instead, agencies need to do “reverse Christmas.” Don’t try to surprise and impress your clients. Have conversations and involve them all the way through. While some of your presentation can have an element of surprise, it should not be a total shock to them. You’ll get better buy-in when they feel they’ve been part of the process from start to finish.

Remember, it’s not about you and your creative genius. It’s about them, the client. Ease their pain points, solve their problem, bring them customers and they’ll love you forever. They don’t care about your massive Christmas light display.

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