I was having coffee with Barry, a long-time client, when he told me this story. He'd just returned from the first meeting with a new client who'd called him and said:
"I want to work with your agency. Charge me what you need to charge, just don't hose me."
It turned out that Michelle, the new client, had been following Barry's work for years. Her agency relationship had just blown up. The agency was owned by one of the giant holding companies and had been overcharging and under-delivering for Michelle's company for years. It had taken her a year to get agreement from senior management that the agency should be let go. She'd spent most of the prior year trying to get the agency to understand her companies' business well enough so they could meet her needs - a very frustrating experience.
Finally, she'd reached the point where she could select the people she knew could do the job and Barry was her first call. Barry has run his virtual agency for 20 years. He has carefully chosen and cultivated a group of professionals with skills in planning, strategy, design, development, production and project management who respect each other and love working together.
Barry's team specializes in a few industry categories that they know well. As he likes to say: "the ability to fake it is a nice talent, but I've found actually knowing something is preferable."
I'm not a big fan of the virtual agency method, but Barry makes it work. His group of collaborators has not only created effective work under his leadership, but they're totally committed to their clients. Together, they've made it work for over 15 years, a remarkable record in the volatile world of regional advertising. As Barry likes to say, we may be virtual, but "we're not an itinerant traveling show."
There's another factor in Barry's success that's worth mentioning. Barry has been co-managing a nonprofit venture that supports the creative community in his city for more than 15 years. This venture is well known and respected as a source of knowledge and talent in the community. Barry's long commitment is another demonstration of his character and skill in building and maintaining long-term professional relationships with talented people.
Barry himself is one of those people who you feel you've known forever the first time you meet. Or, maybe it's because I have known him forever. In any case, he's all about using his writing skills and exceptional clarity to help others. So, I wasn't surprised to hear about his new client and her absolute trust in him. I guess it's because I can't imagine not trusting him.
Copy plus clear strategy
Barry describes himself as a copywriter with a talent for developing smart clear strategies, or a strategist who can write better than usual copy. But, I think the real deal is that he's genuinely interested in people and in helping them work together with others inside their organizations and out.
Barry's expertise is not industry specific. His expertise is in collaboration. He assembles groups of people who like to work together and they know that when they're working on Barry's team they will contribute their personal best and have the privilege and pleasure of seeing fellow team members do the same. It's obvious to all that he values relationships.
He loves: solving a difficult marketing puzzle, learning from other's feedback, teaching people, and connecting opportunities with opportunity-seekers.
Danger, Advertising the Inferior
Over that same coffee, he told me another classic Barry story. He was asked by a major client to create a campaign for a service that was not doing well. He knew from comparing the service to competitors that advertising was not the answer. In fact, it would be dangerous to create more awareness of the service because the service was fundamentally inferior to its competitors. Advertising would just make the public aware of his client's shortcomings.
A delicate question: how to proceed without alienating the client? They've asked for an advertising campaign. The easiest thing to do would be to do the ads and bill the client. But, that would be the wrong thing to do. Using his client's own data, Barry carefully described how their service wasn't close in measurable performance to their competitors. The client team already had these facts, they just hadn't thought through the implications. Once they did, they realized that advertising would raise damaging awareness of their subpar service.
With the realization that the service needed improvement, Barry helped the team determine who at the C level should be engaged to bring the service up to parity before launching a campaign. Barry's collaborative skills helped the client recognize the risk and take the right positive action, all done in a way that let the client know that Barry was interested in only one goal: their success.
Barry is an expert collaborator. That's why Michelle called and handed him her business, and that's why his team and his clients stay with him.
That's what experts do. And that's why experts get inbound calls.