A day with Polymensa

Daniel de la Cruzs Polymensa group meet in Leeds

Leeds welcomes Polymensa

Last Friday Alex Craven and I joined the effervescent Daniel de la Cruz and his Polymensa agency group as they visited a sunny Leeds for their monthly get together. Billed as experts in residence, we joined 7 awesome agency owners from across the country for a day of problem-solving, discussion, eating, more eating, and even a spot of cake decorating (yes really!)

Everybody agreed that the session was a massive success. It’s incredible what a day out of the office in a relaxed environment with supportive people can do to get you thinking and re-charge your agency batteries.

Once the day had finished and the aftertaste of the chilli chocolate we sampled had finally subsided, I had chance to reflect on what the key themes of the discussions were. As ever with these types of sessions, we covered a lot of ground. Much of it was confidential of course, but 3 things stood out for me:

1. Imposter Syndrome

Imposter Syndrome is – sadly – alive and well in agency land. We all experience feelings of self-doubt at some point. Some of us are plagued by it more than others. I’ve often considered whether, as knowledge businesses, agency owners are more susceptible to these feelings than other entrepreneurs. We don’t have as many physical reminders of our progress that those people running businesses with product inventory, capital equipment or production facilities do. Whether there is some truth in this or not, at the meeting on Friday, I noticed two things: 
Firstly, the fact that most of us automatically play down our achievements. We choose humility over pride. I know I’m guilty of this. As the group talked about their businesses I saw people nonchalantly comment about incredible performance and growth (even during COVID). Some referred to successfully operating in challenging international markets as if it was something that all agencies do. Others casually mentioned that they had acquired multiple businesses as though it was the norm. Whilst people talked, I observed the other Polymensa members sitting their listening to their peers. Some had huge grins, others looks of astonishment and, yes, most had that far away look that said “I can’t compare my success to that” at some point.
The second thing I noticed was just how much the groups’ reaction to what they were saying helped the agency owners who were modestly explaining their business. They visibly grew in their seats and puffed their chests out as other members of the meeting showered them with compliments, acknowledged their achievements and enthused about their plans for the future.
Key Learning: Never underestimate or down play what you’ve achieved and what you can achieve. Don’t be afraid of telling others about it. Whatever business you are in, try to surround yourself with people like the Polymensa team who understand your industry and can give you a reminder every now and again of just how good you and your business are.

2. P & P

Agency positioning is never far away from my work coaching agency owners. It’s a competitive market and many people struggle with clearly and succinctly articulating what they do and who they do it for in a way that makes them stand out. Positioning and proposition are the foundations of this. Whilst some use these terms interchangeably, I believe they’re two different albeit interconnected entities. 

Your positioning provides CONTEXT. If you are well positioned as an agency you’re not – necessarily – in a unique space but you can easily point to the fact you do something for someone (N.B. Not some things for everyone!) You’re also comfortable with referring to yourself as a particular type of agency. You know what agency label you most closely associate with and avoid the generic catch-all terms. This context enables prospective clients to find and choose you more easily. It also allows others to quickly decide that you are not for them. This is a good thing. It saves everybody wasting time and money.

Your Value Proposition offers those clients that are interested in you a CONTRACT. It communicates what you will do for them in exchange for their investment in you. It describes what difference you will make to their business. It outlines how you intend to make that difference. And it conveys why you do what you do in an engaging and meaningful way.

Last week’s meeting was a reminder to me that whilst these elements are interlinked, they are not interdependent. You can solve one but not necessarily the other. We had some extremely successful and well positioned agencies around the table at Polymensa. Nevertheless, by their own admission, a few  could still do with some work on their proposition. They could improve the message that they put into the market.

Key Learning: You can be so close to something that you can’t see it clearly. Positioning and Proposition are great examples of this in action. When you get experienced and impartial people to help you, you can usually start to see things differently and progress can be made.

3. Creating and nurturing a Management Team

The 3rd dominant theme of day wasn’t a surprise to me. With so many growing agencies in the room, it was only natural that many of them were preoccupied with establishing, developing or improving their management teams. When I ran an agency we spent a lot of time trying to create the right management structure. As we grew we realised that this needed to continue to evolve and adapt it.

You may be focused on putting a team in place to take some of the growing responsibilities away from you. You may wish to step back and let people run the agency for you. You may even be starting to plan for the agencies future without you and establish a team capable of taking the business forward. Whatever the scenario, you have a lot of variables to contend with. You might have roles to fill in a management team, but you also have relationships, respect and loyalty to observe. Particularly to those people who have supported you on the journey so far. Fitting all these pieces together effectively is sometimes a difficult puzzle to solve.

Key learning: My advice when looking at forming and developing management teams is always to take the personalities and individuals out of the equation. Decide what roles you have to fill in your senior team. What support and input do you need from the people around your top table? How many people should there be? What will they be responsible for? What are their key deliverables in terms of running the agency with you? Once you have identified the roles, where you can put the names of the people you have in the seats you’ve identified. You will soon see if you have clear gaps, or more usually where you have somebody in the required role that is just not quite delivering what you need. Often the question is then how you can help them develop and deliver more, but it may also be a question of replacing them. This may not necessarily mean replacing them in their day to day role, but bringing somebody in who is more capable and comfortable with managing the business. If you’re a CEO who is struggling to see the picture clearly, an NED or Chair who can be more impartial can often help you make progress quicker.

Thank You

Thanks to Daniel for inviting me to such a fantastic session. It was great to spend some time working with like-minded people and see the power of the hive mind in action once again. Particularly after so many months of us being more isolated due to COVID.

Thanks also to Neil Adams and his team at Powerhouse for hosting us all and laying on some great food and entertainment.

Gareth Healey