Recognizing change important: Smith

Sheldon SmithPresidentArtis Marketing & CommunicationsQ. What does it take to be an agent of change?A. Most importantly, an ability and willingness to recognize that change is taking place. And that to compete in that kind of environment, you and your organization...

Sheldon Smith

President

Artis Marketing & Communications

Q. What does it take to be an agent of change?

A. Most importantly, an ability and willingness to recognize that change is taking place. And that to compete in that kind of environment, you and your organization have to change correspondingly.

Another factor is flexibility. The more rapid the change, the more important it becomes that individuals and the organizations they represent can adapt.

Change is difficult for almost everybody. To deal with it, you have to be prepared to deal with the unknown. There has to be a genuine willingness to take a risk.

You have to have confidence in yourself, confidence in the people you work with, confidence that you have the correct vision for your business.

You have to listen better than ever before, not only to your client’s needs but also to the changes taking place in the business environment around you.

You need to be searching for new and better ways of doing business. There doesn’t seem to be room anymore to operate at anything less than 100% efficiency.

Q. How has the client-supplier relationship changed over the past couple of years?

A. It’s improved, certainly, for our agency.

The reality of today’s economy has placed an enormous amount of pressure on our clients. There is a tremendous pressure on their bottom line. There is enormous competition for the consumer dollar. And clients are cost-cutting to reduce overhead pressure.

All of those factors have contributed to the very different way in which clients are working with their suppliers.

There seems to be a willingness and commitment toward integrated, multidisplinary business solutions.

We are seeing more clients who are looking for more support. We are being involved in their business more willingly than even two or three years ago. We are being made to feel a partner in the process.

Clients today are less interested in neat ideas, and far more interested in results, particularly if they are measurable.

There’s an openness to smaller service organizations. They find it appealing that there is a reduction in bureaucracy. Clients like to be able to talk to people directly responsible for their work.

Q. When you enter a relationship with a client, how do you determine just how open they are to supplier-initiated change?

A. Very carefully. Organizations are no different than individuals. Each has a different personality and set of needs. It would be arrogant and foolish to assume that one approach would be correct for all clients. You have to be prepared to feel out their needs and adapt accordingly.

Q. How important to the process of change is understanding your client’s business?

A. One of the most prevalent complaints we had heard from our clients, and this is part of the reason we started the company, is the fact that there was a dissatisfaction on the part of clients with one-dimensional solutions to their problems.

It didn’t matter whether you were a pr firm, a promotional agency or an advertising agency, the most common concern was that every business recommendation was geared toward the particular type of service that that agency provided.

And that’s because for many years, that’s how clients wanted us to provide those services. But then clients started saying, ‘The solutions you are coming up with are geared toward your own operating structure as opposed to our specific needs.’

What’s got to change now is you have to look at the business needs of your client – a combination of strategic, financial and service issues – and develop business solutions that meet those needs. Very often that requires taking an integrated, multidisciplinary approach.

So if you are not listening to your client’s needs and you are letting your own structure drive the solutions you are coming up with, you are going to run into difficulties over the next five or six years.

Q. How do you stay on top of trends in your field?

A. We made a specific business decision to target clients in different categories and different industries, whether it be electronic, financial, distillery, packaged goods, etc. One of the reasons we did that was because we wanted to learn. And, two, there would be the opportunity to cross-pollinate between different categories.

Q. What would be your advice to clients who have expressed dissatisfaction with their suppliers’ willingness and ability to initiate change?

A. Clients have to be willing, if they are looking for change, to provide some sense of security. I think that’s critical.

The more we work as partners, the more easily agencies will be able to adapt.

There’s a large investment on the part of agencies to be able to meet the changing needs of clients. To be able to do that in an environment of uncertainty is both difficult and financially very risky.

If they are still dissatisfied, give us a call.