Defining What You Are, And Are Not

Success in communications takes more than just saying "yes"

by Jason Falls |

The Achille’s Heel of agencies is they often don’t know how to say, “no.” Clients ask them if they can launch a website. Yes! Can they write a speech? Yes! Can they manage a text campaign? Yes! Can they wrap a tour bus? Yes!

The problem is that more often than not, the correct answer an agency should give is, “no.” While there’s nothing wrong with finding a suitable vendor or third party to help the client, most agencies fear appearing incapable of anything, so they say, “yes!” and figure out how later.

Look around your own market in the digital marketing and communications space. Who is the best SEO shop? What about online PR? Who manages social media content best? Anyone stand out in the mobile space?

Certainly every digital shop in town, and a dozen or so other independent consultants, will claim to be best-in-class or at least town in all those categories. The simple truth is that no one shop usually is. And this contradiction in and of itself is killing the agency business in the minds of brands who use them.

In defining who I am, I’ve landed on the notion I’m more a thinker than a doer. Put me in charge of Facebook and Tweets and writing copy for ads and press releases — all tasks I am capable of completing — and both you and I will be less than thrilled in the long run. But if left to determine the strategic direction of said communications, we’ll both be mightily pleased.

Social Media Explorer’s agency division, SME Digital, has done a lot of defining of itself lately. Are we an agency or a consultancy? And there is a difference. I’ll leave it up to Nichole to discuss that in more depth down the line, but the important thing is that we’re sticking to the principle I used to found the company in 2009, which was this:

I want to be the person that tells clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear.

That means many will fire me/us. That means we’ll have to learn to say, “no.” But it also means that we’ll provide what we’re good at and not what we’re not. We’d much rather deliver results and work that you can all but guarantee will be good, rather than random deliverables that may or may not fall apart.

It’s important for you, whether an independent practitioner, agency staff person or even brand-side marketer, to understand four critical pieces of information in order to be successful in the communications game:

  1. Know what you do best
  2. Know what you can do well
  3. Know what you can’t do well
  4. Know who can

Once you define that, you can define you and reap the benefits of knowing.


About the Author

Jason Falls

Jason Falls is a leading thinker, speaker and strategist in the world of digital marketing and is co-author of two books, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide To Social Media Marketing and The Rebel's Guide To Email Marketing. By day, he leads digital strategy for Elasticity, one of the world's most innovative digital marketing and public relations firms. Follow him on Twitter (@JasonFalls).