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A Perfect Storm Warrants a Perfect Plan

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In May 2005, analysts warned that oil could "super-spike" to $105 a barrel and economists were prophesying that the American economy as a whole might be sailing into choppy waters. Well, they are no longer prophecies. They are realities.

The fact is we've hit the perfect storm. The housing market is in total flux with mortgage debt ballooning from $4.9 trillion in 2001 to almost $10 trillion in 2007. The upheaval in the oil industry doesn't seem to be coming toward any kind of order. Instead, crude oil prices have hit record highs of around $147 a barrel earlier this summer. And the greater threat to American families than the rising prices of oil is the surging costs of groceries. Food costs are increasing at the fastest rate since 1990 with jumps anywhere from 20-60 percent.

As with energy, higher food costs cut into discretionary income that buys everything from cars to computers to movie tickets and drives the consumer-based U.S. economy. So where does that leave the advertising and marketing industry? FedEx Kinko's released the results of its national "Signs of the Times" small business survey last month.

Close to 100 percent of the small business owners polled were moderately to very concerned about the current economy's impact on their business. However, decreasing their marketing and advertising budgets is not a likely course of action. Instead, staying connected to customers -- especially during taxing times -- is imperative. It is vital for businesses to remain visible.

The burning question we hear from lots of agencies during these turbulent times is, "How do we increase new business?" Let's start with the old adage of treating your clients like prospects and your prospects like clients. We are fighting a perfect storm and each agency needs to develop its own unique perfect plan to weather the storm.

Since each agency is distinctive, then each agency should have the perfect plan that best suits them and their offerings. It sounds so basic and we often see agencies nodding their heads and mumbling under their breath, "Well, of course. Communicate what is unique about us and how we can make a difference. I got it!" Although we're all in agreement, we often see the same things being done over and over again with the expectation of a different outcome. Yes, it's the definition of insanity. Having a crystal clear definition of who you are as an agency allows you to clearly communicate the unique value you can offer to a help solve a client's (current or prospective) problems. Gone are the days of "telling and selling," especially during the times when the signs of an imminent recession are all around us. 

During one of AAR's New Biz IQ sessions, we helped an agency to crystallize not so much how they differ from their cluttered competitive landscape, but rather the value that they bring to solving marketing problems because in a tumultuous economy, there is a shift in attitude toward value orientation. And there is a lesson to be learned here. Emphasize core values during the economic downturn, starting with the value you bring through your relationships with your current clients. The mentality during these times is just like it is in the summer -- the thought is everyone is on vacation, so don't make as many calls.

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