Building a Digital Agency Ecosystem

10/06/2011 04:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2011

I'm often asked what it takes to fuel a rapidly growing digital agency network and how to be successful with a compelling digital offering.

It always surprises me that my answers have little to do with digital per se, and more to do with sound management principles and common sense. It's simple, but not simplistic.

Here are the four key things that we've done across the North American network to fuel a rapidly growing business:

1. We've built our business around making brands more valuable to people and making people more valuable to brands. We've always accomplished the former by bringing brands closer to consumers and helping our clients close the sale. The latter is an evolving phenomenon which acknowledges that people have always talked about brands and it just so happens that digital and social media amplify and accelerate those messages. So we design our work carefully using a framework we've created called SocialWork, to make sure that we can solve business challenges and also arm consumers with the right understanding and brand point of view as they talk about it in the digital ecosystem.

2. We help our clients understand what they should do, not what they could do. Let's face it, marketers today are more confused than ever about the array of activities and tactics they have at their disposal. Being able to help our clients understand where they should focus by truly understanding their business challenges is the essence of being a modern day digital agency. I think our heritage as a direct and CRM shop really helps us take this approach, because we're so used to looking for the business drivers when we start planning programs and initiatives for our clients.

3. We're building our own ecosystem of centers of excellence within the North American network. We think we're building a model today that many agencies will end up adopting. There used to be this idea that each shop should have all the capabilities it needs to service a client. We work with centers of excellence around the global network and bring the best talent to bear on assignments rather than trying to have everyone everywhere. There are challenges like resource allocation and billing, and we haven't perfected it yet. As we evolve, we think we're going to have something that's really special that can accomplish Olympic feats with less churn.

4. We hire our unfair share of the best talent in the world. Many agencies say they do this, but we actually do. It makes all the difference in the world and gives us such an amazing strategic and tactical advantage. I can't tell you the number of times it would have been so easy to fill a spot as we've grown. But we wait until we find the right talent and our clients really appreciate it.

We all know these things are easy to say, but take a lot of diligence and effort to do, especially as the landscape of our industry continues to shift and evolve. But do these things well, on a consistent basis, and you'll find yourself enjoying and embracing the change that comes with being in the digital business.