Bravery: The rarest and most undervalued agency trait

Think of the advertising agencies you admire. Shouldn’t take long as the list is probably pretty short. I would bet that one of the commonalities between them (aside from great work) is the fact that they usually seem to make the right decision in difficult situations.

I’d say most of the time these decisions get made due to the agency having strong principles that guide it. However it’s one thing to have principles, it’s another to stick to them.

That’s where the brave part comes in.

Here’s a test: Think of the last time your agency took in just one campaign to a big client presentation because it was the one they believed in. The right one. Ok, how about only two campaigns? Both great, but not what the client is expecting?

And these are just everyday creative decisions. What happens when you get to the big, expensive crossroads such as having a client whose bad behavior and poor decision-making becomes cancerous to the agency? Does your agency have the stones to fire them? What if they represented 25 or 30% of your company’s revenue?

Most agencies would tell their people to suck it up and deal. But brave agencies have their eye on the long term and know that they’ll need those people they’re burning out, and that soul they’d be trading, long after said terrible client has come and gone. They also know that if they don’t fire that client today, that client will most likely turn and fire them in the future anyway. Then where will the agency be?

I’ve been in this position and I’ve made decisions that have cost the agency money in the short term. But we’ve always come back stronger, kept our best people loyal and engaged and maintained a clear sense of what we stand for as a company. And when it comes to success, those are some pretty powerful ingredients to have.

I’ve said before that it “isn’t a principle until it costs you money,” but I’m a firm believer as well that a little agency bravery can help you make it back, and more.