If you search the internet for experiential marketing agencies, and peruse a few sites, you’ll notice something unremarkable. Every. Single. Agency. portrays themselves the exact same way.
Seriously. I’m not just talking about capabilities. In many cases, agencies are even using variations of the same WordPress theme. It doesn’t seem to matter if you’re a major player, or a boutique shop. Differentiation at the point of initial contact, and even deeper engagement is exceedingly rare. No wonder brands and clients have a difficult time deciding who to go with. Our industry is becoming highly commoditized. Left with indistinguishable differences, clients are forced to look at price as the deciding factor.
I recently went through the exercise of reviewing all 100 agencies on Event Marketer’s It List. Aside from a few exceptions, I was struck by the incredible similarities. Most sites look something like this:
- Opening page showing the work in photos or videos, energized audiences, trade show booths, colored lighting, speakers on stage, people smiling in group shots, a few “engagement” views,
- About us page which provides a quirky description of the agency’s history, a description of their approach — which is the same approach with a different name that everyone else uses, and a list of the same capabilities every other agency has,
- Logo page showing all the brands the agency has ever worked with,
- Case study page, with some semblance of a deeper dive of the work agencies has done — seldom accurately describing the business problem or opportunity, with a lot of focus on what the agency executed, and very little, or completely missing results of the work — if anything, outputs, not outcomes,
- Team page with creative shots showing the personalities of the leadership team, and in some cases, everyone in the agency, including the some random fun facts or quotes, and of course, the obligatory picture of someone’s dog who is the adopted agency mascot,
- A map of where all the remote agency employees live disguised as office locations,
- Links to press releases, and often poorly managed social media sites, including: a blog, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, sometimes — Slideshare, YouTube or Vimeo, and for the really cool — Instagram or the exceedingly rare Snapchat,
- Careers page with creatively written job descriptions for open positions,
- And, a desperate contact page, pleading for you to submit an RFP to the agency’s new business development person.
Looking at this from a potential client’s eyes, and having participated in dozens of pitches in my career, I’m wondering why it is so hard to be different? I’m reminded of that scene in Monty Python’s, “The Life of Brian”, where Brian proclaims, “You are all individuals!” and the audience shouts back in a monotone voice, “We are all individuals…”
What’s more, the way in which agencies present themselves is redundant. The website = the RFP response = the pitch. We do not do a good job of telling different chapters of the story at different stages in the relationship.
So what makes you special?
I’m convinced there are indeed differences, but we do not exploit them appropriately. Typically, there are a few areas that agencies tend to talk about, but often, we try to pontificate on all of them instead of picking 1 or 2 to really focus on. Here are some thoughts on how to make this work
- Work — cool, creative work using the latest technological and cultural trends: Most agencies have this part figured out, the challenge here is showing relevance to prospects. Sexy wears off when real-world budgets come in to play. Also, what works in entertainment, may not translate into banking.
- Brands — marquee, recognizable companies: The challenge here, is brands change agencies, and over time, every agency will one day have the same list of Fortune 500 brands on their website.
- Industry Expertise — specialty in certain verticals: This is seldom exploited, and the fear here is it may limit an agency’s chance of winning a client outside of their vertical wheelhouse. I believe if you are good at something you should stick with it, exploit it, and become THE go to source. That said, it is also not unheard of to find relative verticals that can be exploited based on expertise in another. Clients are often looking for new thinking outside of their industry to leverage.
- Approach — strategic creative process: Every agency has some POV, perspective and strategic creative process they use. What about other approaches that matter? Is your financial approach different? What about your production? Think beyond the sexy.
- People / Culture / Talent — mostly award-winning creative talent. There are other people in your agency who should also be celebrated. Keep in mind it takes a village. A client is not a singular entity, but a collection of people in different roles — each who will hold some sort of relationship with someone at your agency. What if you promoted that you had the best event producers in the business? The people who make it happen where the rubber meets the road. Also don’t pay lip service to this. Make sure your people are actually the best, and involved in the process.
- Size and Scale — local, national, global, fabrication and warehousing, etc.: There is no better or best here. There are different clients who have different needs. Sometimes being global is great, other times, it is a liability with way too much overhead for a client to want to bear for a project.
- Effectiveness — impact made on client’s business: Almost no one is doing this. Huge opportunity for the right agency to prove themselves based on brand business results.
- Efficiency — resource, process, accountability, and financial acumen: More and more, brands are looking for results, and more importantly, optimization.
Don’t attempt to boil the ocean. Pick something, deliver it exceptionally, show its relevance, and tell the story in a way that makes sense to the stage of your client relationship. Your unique selling proposition is there, you just need to find it, and help it rise to the top.