3 lessons for agencies from Gordon Ramsay

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What can an agency learn from a TV chef? 

I like Gordon Ramsay. He’s a very intense guy, and although he shouts and swears a lot, I love his energy and passion. I admire his high standards and drive for perfection. He clearly wants to be the best at whatever he does. But what has this got to do with agencies I hear you say? Whilst I don’t think Gordon’s management style (essentially standing an inch from somebody’s face and bellowing swear words at them), would be effective in an agency environment. I do think Gordon has a few lessons for agencies in other areas.

For starters… 

Some years ago, Gordon made a TV series called Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmare’s. It basically involved him walking into failing restaurants and turning them around within a matter of days.  I used to like watching these shows, but the format became tired quite quickly, probably because it was so formulaic. Essentially, Gordon turned up at a restaurant unannounced, tasted the food and spat most of it out, before proceeding to chastise and antagonise the owner. He then set about telling them what to do. Every other word he uttered generally began with F (and I’m not talking “Food”).

I’d long forgotten about this series until earlier this week when, whilst channel hopping late one evening, I came across a re-run of the USA version. It’s basically the same format,  but Gordon turns up in a poor quality disguise and for some reason everybody calls him “Chef Ramsay” at every opportunity.

The main course… 

Kitchen Nightmare’s followed the same format every episode.  Once Gordon had ruffled everybody’s feathers and got a few people crying, he set to work. 

His recipe for success was very simple and consisted of 3 main dishes. Each contain delicious lessons for agencies in my opinion:

1. REDUCE THE CHOICE – In every single instance, Gordon believed the menu in the restaurant was far too extensive. In EVERY episode he cut down the amount of dishes on offer. Not only that, he introduced a Signature Dish.  A speciality of the house. Something that the restaurant could promote and become famous for.

This approach brought MANY benefits. It made it easier for the customers to buy. It made it easier for the business operationally. It brought more CLARITY to the restaurant proposition. They were clearer on what they stood for and who they were trying to appeal to. Quality improved as they became better at preparing the reduced number of dishes they served. Costs reduced as waste reduced (not as many ingredients were needed and wasted). Supplier relationships and terms improved as the restaurants needed to buy fewer things but in larger quantities more regularly.  I could go on.

2. GET THE MOJO BACK & RALLY THE TROOPS – Gordon ALWAYS had a harsh word or two for at least one member of staff (usually more). Sometimes these people were the owners, sometimes they were employees. In any event they were all UNDERPERFORMING.  Standards were poor. They had often fallen out of love with the job. Confidence was low and it was having a detrimental effect on the whole team.  Gordon did 2 things. Firstly he confronted the individual(s) and gave them some – brutally – honest feedback. After lots of emotional outbursts from both sides (which makes great TV of course), the people either left the business or responded to Gordon’s “tough love” and rediscovered their mojo.  He built their confidence back up by re-lighting the fire in them and praising their efforts. He inspired the rest of the staff by cooking his new menu and getting them to taste it and be proud of it.

3. GIVE THE PLACE A FACELIFT – Most of these restaurants looked unloved and tired. The decor was out of date, branding was poor or non-existent, and the standards of cleanliness were not great. There was very little marketing going on. The production company paid for a complete facelift and overnight the restaurants transformed into a brighter, cleaner, more modern and inviting environments. Regular and lapsed customers were invited to experience the new menu and invariably everybody was impressed with the food, service and decor.  The restaurants were back on their feet again.

To Finish…

I sincerely hope your agency is not failing. I’m sure it’s not a nightmare (although like every business, I bet it has its moments).
However, regardless of the current performance of your agency, there are lessons for agencies in these TV shows that are now mostly consigned to the lower reaches of tertiary Sky TV channels late at night.
There are things we agency owners can take out of this and even take action on next week in our own businesses.
I’m sure you’re already ahead of me, but let me summarise the key lessons for agencies here:
1. ARE YOU DOING TOO MANY THINGS OR TRYING TO APPEAL TO TOO MANY PEOPLE? – Could your agency benefit from a more refined and focussed “menu”.? Could you develop a greater depth of expertise rather supply a breadth of services?  Could this make you more attractive to CERTAIN clients and even allow you to charge more? In short, should you niche your proposition?
2. ARE YOU OR YOUR STAFF UNDERPERFORMING?  – Have an honest look at yourself and your agency. Are standards as high as they were? Are there any weak links in your team? Who has lost their mojo?
I’m not advocating shouting and upsetting people here, but I am urging you to consider whether standards have dropped and every member of your team are at the top of their game. If not, they either need to be coached or, for the good of the rest of the business, maybe it’s time for them to move on?
 3. DOES YOUR AGENCY NEED A FACELIFT? – Have a look around your office, your website, your social media channels.  In fact, why not review your whole client experience at every touch point? Is everything as good as it was or could be? How do your compare to your competitors?  Have you grown complacent in any areas?
I’m not pushing for rebranding here, but I am suggesting that Chef Ramsay has some lessons for agencies in both his TV show and his approach to business. The restaurant sector is highly competitive. Choice abounds and customers can be very fickle. Like the agency sector, you need to continually assess whether you are operating to the highest standards in order to stay relevant and profitable.
Why not gather your partners or senior team together on Monday morning and ask them what improvements they would make?
PS – No shouting or swearing allowed!