Business mistakes that hold us back

The Friday Street Club

This article originally appeared in Marklives.

In Jim Collin’s book “Good to Great”, he conducted research into how a good company can become a great one. One of the key things he discovered is that “…great companies did not focus principally on what to do to become great; they focused equally on what not to do and what to stop doing”.

So what are we, as PR and communications agencies, doing that perhaps we shouldn’t? Here are some of the things that immediately spring to mind:

1. Working with tyrants because we want their money

It’s an age-old problem — the people with the cash are often psychopaths (there’s obviously some universal law about wealth being inversely proportionate to personality).

In the corporate world, this often means that some of the biggest-paying clients are hard to work for, and doing so is often detrimental to your business’s ways of working and your employees’ morale.

Despite the mental abuse, we kowtow to these clients because they pay our bills (and, more importantly, our salaries). And, in doing this, we compromise our values, our culture, and our self-respect.

So what would happen if we decide to chase the right work and not the cash? Hopefully, we wouldn’t go out of business. I like to think, instead, that if we build an operation that is focused on values rather than cash, we would attract likeminded partners to work with (and, hopefully, the cash would then follow).

2. Trying to force old business models to suit new ways of working

One of the mistakes I see happening time and again is with established companies that are desperately trying to squeeze and squash their existing business model to service clients’ needs today.

Yet an ad agency whose entire way of operating is based around creating epic TV ads will always be too expensive and slow to service the quick and clever turnaround of social media. And a PR business whose only skill set is churning out self-congratulatory press releases will never be able to shine when results are not measured in AVE.

The most exciting and successful businesses are those that are brave away to throw away the outdated and clunky structures they have relied on for decades, and that are flexible enough to build new ones around the very real ways in which we need to operate.

3. Prioritising process over getting shit done

This relates to the above point.

When processes get in the way of delivering work faster and better, they are not processes. They are hurdles. Get rid of them.

4. Operating in hierarchy silos

Old ways of working place an importance on hierarchy and autocracy. Yet this discounts the value that all employees can contribute.

Yes, there needs to be management structures and leadership. But debate and collaboration with all members of staff can deliver innovative, relevant and surprising results. And, in any case, it also makes staff empowered to play a meaningful role in the company, rather than being a bunch of foot soldiers blindly clocking in and out.

5. Focusing on channels and not communities

This one’s for PR agencies. Delivering coverage just through traditional (or even non-traditional) media channels shows a lack of understanding of how things work today.

Instead, we need to look at what communities we need to reach — maybe it’s a group of fans on Facebook, maybe a community of residents who live in a certain area, perhaps a group of likeminded people who are passionate about a cause.

Then we need to look at what they want to receive and how we can be part of that — and, many times, this won’t be through a press release and traditional media coverage. It may just as likely be video, an event, or face-to-face briefings. Or, even better, an innovation and new kind of service or product.

6. Relying on research and marketing models over instinct

A wise colleague once said to me: “There are two kinds of marketers: those who can encapsulate an entire brand strategy in one picture, and those who rely on templates to develop one.”

I know whom I’d rather entrust with my brand.

An agency or a marketer who believes in death by powerpoint, and that a brand is made better through a million “brand pyramids” that “ladder up” to something, is dangerous, whereas those who are brave enough to trust instinct over research are the ones that make exciting work that resonates.

The learnings in all of this? Be brave, innovate and embrace input from colleagues and outsiders, no matter their experience. Above all, be prepared to look at things when they are not working, to throw them away, and to create new ways to make magic happen.

Emma King (@EmmainSA) is the owner and MD of The Friday Street Club (@TheFridayStClub). Previously, she was head of PR at The Jupiter Drawing Room (Cape Town). She contributes the monthly “The Dissindent Spin Doctor” column on PR and communication issues to