The most exciting and profitable part of my business is often also the most frustrating — valuing our ideas. After all, clients don’t come to us because they want to be patrons of the arts. They call us up and hire us because they have a problem and they need to find someone to help them solve it. Of course this is not a new phenomenon. Based on my reading I often wonder if the Medicis hired Michelangelo in 1512 because they wanted to support his talent or because the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was stained.
Sometimes client problems are really problems of implementation – they need a website built or a brochure created by a certain date. Maybe they need a media plan strategized and carried out or maybe they need a new signage and wayfinding program. They come to us because we’re good at what we do, sure, but they also come because they know we can get it done – on time and on budget.
But the clients who really value what we do and who get the real money making ideas from us are the ones who come asking for a strategic solution to a big problem. How do they change their brand to address the new demands of a more diverse marketplace, for example, how do they profit from the new realities of an economically powerful Latin America, or how do they introduce and manage new media into their successful but quickly aging traditional marketing plan?
These clients know they need to change and they know they need new ideas, they just don’t know how to find them. And so they come to us.
Our best clients, the ones who give us the latitude and the resources we need to do our job, are also the ones who get the best results. That’s because we can come back to them with breakthrough ideas that change their consumers’ perceptions and create the powerful brands that build business.
When Michael Earley was named CEO of health care company Metropolitan Health Networks, the stock price was in a death spiral and had fallen to a record low of 85 cents. We helped Michael create and build four brands, including MetCare, AdvantageCare, Symphony Health Partners and ContinuCare. Last month, Michael and his team sold Metropolitan Health Networks to Humana for approximately $850 million at a share price of $11.50.
When Bill Talbert took over the reins at the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau 23 years ago, the community was rocked by a number of disasters that kept visitors away in droves. Today, our “It’s So Miami,” campaign is on everyone’s lips and Miami is one of the most valuable tourism brands in the world with record attendance of over 13.4 million visitors in 2012.
When Hank Yunes hired us to reposition his company’s retirement communities, the financial crises had forced housing prices to new lows. Just one year later, our Younger Next Year branding program had increased home sales by over 62% in their properties outside of Orlando and Phoenix.
With successes like those, you might wonder how valuing ideas can be frustrating. After all, we’re very well paid to help our clients build their businesses. But here’s the problem: before we go to work, and before our efforts pay off, our pitch of great ideas and compelling brands is just a promise. It’s not until after our ideas are implemented and begin to bring in business and dollars that our clients can truly see the advantages.
Because of this disconnect, we’ve had clients who have looked at our solutions and said, “I could’ve thought of that.” Needless to say, they hadn’t thought of it yet, but that reality didn’t stop them from devaluing our ideas. After all, if you sit an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters, one of them will type Shakespeare. But you have to read an infinite amount of monkey babble before you find it.
Of course great clients like Earley, Talbert, and Yunes see the value up front and encourage us to do whatever it takes to respond to their needs. And these are the kinds of guys who look at our presentations and never say, “I could have thought of that,” but instead nod, smile, and say, “I should have thought of that.”
Recognizing the value of an idea, and the difference between “should’ve” and “could’ve” is often the difference between success and failure. And de-commoditizing our services to better differentiate our solutions from other generic practitioners is our challenge for the new year. My guess is it’s yours, too.