Does an agency need attitude?

Companies usually communicate their attitude proudly and publicly to the outside world through their mission statement. Are attitude and purpose needed, and maybe even crucial, for agencies as well?

At DMEXCO 2019, representatives from ADC conveyed a clear attitude.
Image: © Koelnmesse GmbH / Harald Fleissner

Attitude and purpose have long been routine for companies

For a company, identifying its purpose means defining its objective and calling. Purpose here is to be understood in the sense of the company’s “meaningfulness”. It establishes why an organization acts the way it does.

Being “purpose driven” means that a company clearly positions itself, follows a vision without compromise, and pursues an authentic mission that consumers can identify with. After all, consumers are increasingly making conscious purchasing decisions in favor of brands that share the same principles and sociopolitical ideals. They demand that companies take a clear stand on current issues, such as climate change, racism, and sexism.

More and more frequently, companies are catering to this consumer need despite the risk that their positioning could offend certain people. But what advantages do they hope to gain from it? The goals pursued in the course of taking a stance, showing an attitude, and presenting the company as aligned with an overriding purpose, are to

  • create a USP,
  • establish a strong degree of trust, and
  • enable customers and employees to identify with the company on a long-term basis.

Purpose-driven marketing – also worthwhile for agencies?

When it comes to purpose-driven marketing, it is usually agencies that prompt and motivate their clients to

  • formulate their own mission,
  • define an attitude and represent it externally,
  • take a stance on social debates and current issues, and
  • assign a corporate purpose that potential customers of the company can identify with.

Of course, these goals are also relevant to agencies themselves if they want to make their mark on the competitive market in the medium and long term. Agencies should therefore ask themselves:

  • Is it worthwhile for agencies to formulate a mission and pursue a purpose?
  • When companies choose an agency, is a purpose they can identify with a valid criterion?
  • Would an attitude and message conveyed externally be a reason for rejection in some cases because it would suggest that the agency lacks adaptability?
  • How would such a purpose need to be defined and communicated in order to be beneficial to the business and financial success of an agency?

Can agencies even afford to have an attitude?

How do agencies benefit from assigning themselves a purpose and communicating it with lots of attitude to the public? Can agencies win over potential clients with virtuous goals and an inspirational purpose, or are the “traditional” criteria such as quality, price, reliability, speed, loyalty and creativity much more important?

An agency can only survive, at least initially, if it is highly adaptable. In order to be lucrative, it must be able to turn the goals of its clients into its own. If a client’s main focus is on profit targets and an orientation toward hard KPIs, the agency’s attitude is not likely to be of much significance to the client and will definitely not be a decisive selection criterion.

For other companies though, especially those whose corporate mission relates to sustainability, their partner agency’s attitude and purpose are certainly valid and important. A company that is committed to sustainability and wants to credibly convey this to its target audience is probably not going to choose an agency whose client portfolio includes a petroleum company or a discount clothing store. In this case, a coinciding purpose and an attitude that is communicated openly to the outside world by the agency will actually be critical selection criteria.

Why the attitude of an agency and its clients must be a good match

A company that consistently showcases its purpose will even specifically look for an agency that ideally embodies the same purpose and attitude both externally and internally. If a company genuinely feels strongly about the working conditions of its suppliers’ employees, it will also set high standards with regard to a partner agency’s working culture and employee satisfaction and not simply be satisfied with taking a quick look at its client list, quote, and work samples.

The sheer number of “sustainable agencies” cropping up everywhere is the best proof that defining a purpose is indeed worthwhile and that there is an enormous demand for agencies that take an assertive stance on sustainability issues.

Not all of these agencies will actually consistently incorporate sustainability as a legitimate purpose, far from it in fact. However, the demand in this area seems to be so high that some companies don’t even notice they are being “greenwashed”. For an agency to be able to give consumers an authentic impression of a sustainable business though, it is almost essential for it to stand for precisely those values itself.

What is a worthwhile purpose?

There is a good reason why the topic of sustainability was presented as an example above. It meets all the criteria to ideally function as a purpose for an agency:

  • It is not a niche issue, but rather one that is being discussed by a lot of companies, other organizations, and political institutions, and therefore appeals to a large group of potential clients.
  • It is not too polarizing: there are strong supporters and a group that is indifferent to the issue, but there is hardly anyone who firmly speaks out against sustainability.
  • Sustainability is no longer just a trend, it has the potential to be a relevant topic that will last into the future: demand is increasing and will remain at a high level for a long while yet.
  • It is not a one-dimensional topic, but rather entails various aspects and facets from an ecological, economic, and social perspective.
  • The topic is a way to connect with nearly everyone in the world and is therefore perfectly suited for communicating a corporate message.
  • The topic can also be implemented in an agency’s internal processes as well as its working and communication culture.

It goes without saying that agencies have to stay true to their attitude as well and must not under any circumstances contradict the mission statement that conveys their attitude. Real attitude and staying power are demanded of agencies in order to stay committed to their purpose and pass up financially lucrative pitches simply because the client doesn’t fit their own ideals. However, this pays off in the long term, since the agency’s credibility increases in the eyes of other clients and its own employees.

Does attitude always pay off?

No, agencies do not have to openly pledge themselves to an issue in order to be recognized by companies as an expert partner. However, if a company’s purpose and an agency’s attitude match up, the chances are extremely high that they will have a long-lasting, fruitful and successful partnership that is built on trust. In a time of constant disruption and never-ending change processes, which also confront agencies with different challenges from one day to the next, attitude gives employees something to identify with and hold on to.

Attitude and a clearly identifiable and assertively formulated mission are also crucial to the strategic self-marketing of an agency in terms of attracting the interest of potential clients. Agencies that want to actively market themselves rather than rely exclusively on recommendations and networking certainly won’t get very far without attitude.

Purpose matching instead of pitching at DMEXCO 2020

DMEXCO offers agencies the ideal platform to make their attitude and purpose accessible and tangible for others to experience. Especially in line with the motto for DMEXCO 2020, “Attitude matters”, having a booth at the trade show is the perfect opportunity to convincingly set the stage for your own agency’s attitude and network with representatives from innovative companies whose purpose and attitude are a good match with yours. Purpose matching instead of pitching! This approach will help you pave the way for successful business development in the future.