Hello, agency leader. And welcome to your new ad agency job! This post is part of series that summarizes The First 90 Days, a terrific book written for leaders of all levels who are, yup, just starting a new gig. This particular bit will summarize Chapter Three, “Match Strategy to Situation.” And as you’ve come to expect (from chapters one and two), yours truly will add a bit of agency context. And give you more reasons to buy this book!
Meet the STARS model
In this chapter, author Michael Watkins introduces us to five different business situations. He defines each of the situations, and suggests a few corresponding challenges and opportunities. He calls it the STARS model:
- Start-up. “Assembling the capabilities to get a new agency or initiative off the ground.” New shops or new in-house agencies.
- Turnaround. “Saving a business widely acknowledged to be in serious trouble.” Agencies who have lost big chunks of business and staff.
- Accelerated Growth. “Managing a rapidly expanding business.” Agencies adding lots of new business and staff.
- Realignment. “Reenergizing a previously successful agency that now faces problems.” Potentially large traditional alphabet soup shops. Maybe they’ve lost a big client. Or lost some key people.
- Sustaining Success. “Preserving the vitality of a successful agency and taking it to the next level.” Longtime creative hot shops.
As much as I’d love to make a few judgements on whether you’re working at a “turnaround” vs. an “accelerated growth” shop, you will learn these things as you research the agency and interview for the job. But the point here is to know that not all agencies are in the same business situation. Even if they’re branded the same. For instance, JWT Chicago is very different than JWT NY.
And, I think this same kind of thinking can apply to a specific piece of client business you’re on. Your challenges and opportunities are different on a new piece of business versus a legacy brand your new agency has had for many years.
Note I’m not talking about the brand’s marketing and marketing communication challenges. (But that could have an impact.) I’m talking about how this client fits in the agency’s overall portfolio of business. Things that define this will include:
- Revenue size (and % share of agency)
- Agency capabilities used by the client
- Tenure (both client and agency side)
- And more
Leading change in the STARS model
So, once you’ve figured out what kind of situation your agency — or your business — is in, then think a bit more about the big picture stuff you can do to impact change. In the book, Watkins goes into some detail here between Turnarounds vs. Realignments, offering some step-by-step detail on the first six steps:
- Organize to learn
- Define strategic intent
- Establish A-item priorities
- Build the leadership team
- Secure early wins
- Create supporting alliances
I found myself hungry for his thinking on the other business situations, too. That’s not in the book. But you should still buy it.
Keep your “you” in mind
Different business situations require different skills from leaders. We can’t all rock everything. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Are you what Watkins calls a “hero” or a “steward?” Maybe you’re something else. The point it, as you assess the business story in your new job, understand your own skill set, too. You may need to practice some self-discipline to be successful. Or augment your skills with professionals on your team to shore up weaknesses.
Measuring success can be different, too
So, we know that a different STARS situation can dictate how we go about growing a bottom or top line. But can the agency/department/client business situation also impact how you’re evaluated and what defines success? Absolutely. That’s the kind of thing figured out between you and your boss. And I’d suggest some regular check-ins with them to make sure all are on the same page.
Seeking alignment (aka covering your STARS butt)
So, there you are, reading posts like these as you start your new ad agency job. Or ready to implement structure and ideas you read in The First 90 Days. But whether you’re a hero or a steward or someone in between, share your thinking with your boss before you get started. This delivers at least three benefits:
- Simply having the conversation is terrific. Because you’re now talking about the agency’s situation and what needs to happen next to affect positive change. Even if you don’t use the STARs model.
- Assessing the agency/department/client’s situation, challenges and opportunities (and then sharing that thinking) demonstrates your passion and commitment for your new job.
- This builds alignment and connection. Never a had thing as you start a new gig.
Anywho, hope this helps get you started on the right foot as you start your new agency job. Should you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line. Happy to help!
Thanks for reading.
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