When “I don’t need” becomes “I don’t want”

“I know I need a reliable commuter car…but man, I want that Jaguar!”

Say that to any used car dealer and you’ll be driving off in the Jag. This is the fundamental struggle we humans face – balancing what we want with what we need. What we want is often what we don’t need, but that car dealer is going to put you in the Jag anyway because it’s more dollars and an easier sale. Wants are emotional, needs are rational: We all know who wins that battle.

And this is what’s wrong with the agency business. For too long, agencies have sold to people’s wants rather than their needs. I got my first glimpse of this many years ago after joining my first agency and sitting through a new business pitch. The “aha moment” came when the pitch leader played a Nightline clip featuring one of our clients. The one slight problem was…the client on Nightline made portable defibrillators (which were brand new at the time), and the prospective client made application development tools and was never getting on Nightline (shy of some sort of executive scandal).

I suspect the prospective client knew this at some level, but they saw that clip and said, “I want that!” and signed on the dotted line for a fat retainer. They drove off in the Jag instead of holding out for that sensible commuter car: a boring yet effective program focused on application development outlets. After paying for a predictably fruitless major-media campaign for several months, they terminated. They were sold what they didn’t need, which predictably became something they didn’t want.

The traditional agency model, which dates back to World War I, is built on selling clients what they want (or convincing them that what you’re selling is what they want). They want big splashy ads and high-priced media relations campaigns…but do they really need those things? Some companies do, but many more don’t. And most companies may need them at some point, but then they don’t need them a few months later due to changes in the business. But, the WWI model locks them into long-term retainers for a stove-piped set of services. And if you want another set of services, it’ll cost you more. And if you want to get out of it all together, you’re stuck for another quarter or more due to the contract’s exit clause. (Incidentally, any exit clause that’s more than 60 days is a sign the agency has no confidence in its ability to satisfy clients, but I digress.)

Few companies really need this model of doing business – but with a slick set of Nightline clips, agencies do a great job at making them want it. Today, we see agencies cling to this model, even though the world has changed considerably since World War I. Today’s economy is all about on-demand everything. People expect to be able to throttle services up and down based on their immediate needs – and yet many agencies are still selling those Nightline clips and sticking clients with long-term, static service modules that inevitably fall out of sync with client needs.

It will be interesting to see how agencies evolve in the next five years. I’ll venture a guess that those adapting to the on-demand world will do well, while the Nightline hucksters drive their Jags straight into I-don’t-wantville.

Women Empowering Women: Little Acts Matter

Without question, the past year has been monumental in the quest for women’s equality, as women from all backgrounds and across industries are demanding to be heard, recognized, and valued in the same way as their male colleagues… and the world is taking notice.

Yet, as much awareness as these initiatives have generated, we still have a lot of work to do. A January 29th article in The Boston Globe, “Mass. ranks near bottom for supporting female entrepreneurs, report finds,” reminds us that equality in some fields is still a work in progress. Entrepreneurship is one such category. In Massachusetts, a state where we pride ourselves on innovation, education, and empowerment, support for female entrepreneurs lags significantly behind support for their male counterparts – Massachusetts ranks 46th out of the 50 states in supporting women-owned businesses.

Of course, there are a host of reasons for our state’s lackluster placement on this list, and the article goes on to discuss several of them. But the point of my comments is not to debate the contributing factors – it’s to ask the question, “What can we as individuals do about it?”

As a female entrepreneur myself, there are lots of big and attention-getting things I can do to try and change the tide. I can lobby leadership teams, boards of directors and government officials; I can voice my opinions on social media; I can protest in solidarity with so many other women who want change for themselves, their daughters and their nieces; and so on. And all such activities are important contributions to the cause.

But perhaps the most important thing I can do as a female entrepreneur and business owner is to help give another woman her shot at success. I firmly believe that women supporting women is the fastest path to equality – there are a lot of us on this planet, even just in this city. And if we take the time to give each other a boost, there’s no limit to how high we can fly.

What does this look like? Well, it doesn’t just have to be a grand gesture or a speech to the masses. It could be as simple as frequenting or recommending women-owned businesses. It could be mentoring a young woman trying to establish or change her career. It could be supporting and covering for a female colleague who is struggling with personal issues. It could be welcoming into your organization working moms trying to maintain a career and keep things running smoothly at home – at Three Rings, we’ve built an incredible team that includes rock star part-time working moms who have their PhDs in productivity and efficiency. Or it could be volunteering and donating to an organization that helps women get back on their feet and thrive in the workplace – for example, I support Dress for Success Boston, an organization that’s sole mission is to empower women looking to create a better life for themselves and their families. And it’s an organization that happens to be run by a truly kick-ass team of women. Women supporting women – these ladies embody the concept like no other.

These are just a few examples – there are countless more. But it’s these seemingly small steps that, together, have tremendous impact. Of course, I understand that there are many other things – including the grand gestures and speeches to the masses – that need to happen for true gender equality to become reality. But I also know that it’s the little things we do day to day, sometimes when nobody is watching, that will give all of us the strength we need to keep up the fight.