"Wow, tell us how you really feel."
A top global branding agency was at the start of a defining shift, integrating the sales and marketing operations of 23 offices more effectively. This was no easy feat for a struggling strategy and design agency that was grown over 30 years, eight acquisitions, and limitless global expansion. A new business development strategy was in the works, which, through the restructured cohesive structure, offered my team had a rare opportunity to weigh in on the approach.
In my first week on the job, I turned to my colleagues to further understand the agency's culture, strengths, and pain points. As a newbie, I could ask all the silly questions without fear. What I found was that hosting segmented workshops across various functions and levels of seniority was a necessity. While we also utilized cross-functional, non-hierarchical workshops and one-on-one interviews, it was in these homogenous groups of designers or strategists or acquired hires or new hires and so on that people felt comfortable going into what they really thought. These safe spaces built trust between the business development team and every other group in the office.
So, how might an international brand strategy and design firm, align its strategy and creative teams with its new brand positioning, with its sales goals, and with each other?
We learned that our staff had a deep desire to participate in the agency’s go-to-market strategy, but most felt alienated from the process. Every acquisition had been thrust on the firm's team. Leadership believed that people were afraid that they wouldn't have a place as we grew, but in reality, people just wanted a say in which clients they worked with. They wanted to design brands for more startups and risk-tolerant businesses that would embrace creative innovation, rather than run-of-the-mill brand maintenance work for a bank branch or drug company.
We crafted a collaborative business development program that opened up a meaningful role for everyone on our staff. Our teams were now tasked with creating thought leadership content ranging from published articles to blog posts to training programs and events. We expanded the scope of “business development” to providing resources for growth in the fields our people were most passionate about, even when the agency didn’t explicitly offer a service in those areas. For instance, despite not offering an official app design service, we had a cohort of designers-turned-developers who were excited to showcase their skills and teach best practices on behalf of the company.
Implementing the program required rallying our worldwide executive committee to make our people the focal point of our strategy. Ideation sessions with our practitioners on the ground were central to devising a pilot program that would move us forward. Presenting our plan to the agency's Vice Chairman, we were able to secure the funding and support necessary to organize an international community of designers, strategists and account managers to contribute to this fresh approach.
As the plan was gradually activated, employees were more engaged with the operational side of the business, which not only inspired more involvement with new client acquisition but also helped to build the agency’s profile. Within months, the agency’s profile had risen significantly, and we had gained the attention of such notable brands as Al-Jazeera, Mayo Clinic, Morgan Stanley and Toyota. While it would take additional effort to win these new clients, we now receive more frequent and fitting RFPs than ever before. Unexpectedly, our client approval ratings also jumped in this time. By uniting our group under a common passion, we were more invested in our clients because they represented who we were, not just the job we had to do.
Most importantly, our staff was teeming with excitement, finally feeling like they are a critical component to the growth of our company. While it doesn't precisely equate to a big promotion or closing a challenging deal, uniting so many people around one central mission stands as my most meaningful professional accomplishment.