In August 2015 PCI will celebrate its 30th anniversary. I think that counts for something.
Although the maxim that “9 out of 10 businesses fail” qualifies as urban myth – as Washington Post Fact Checker Glenn Kessler proved in his skewering of Rand Paul earlier this year – it is true that only about a third of businesses last longer than ten years. The D.C. area is certainly littered with burned-out shells of marketing and creative agencies that didn’t make it, particularly after the tech implosion of 2000-2001.
So as PCI approaches its fourth decade I have been doing some reflecting. After all, out of those present in August of 1985 I am the last man standing. Why is PCI still going strong while many others have fallen by the wayside?
Several possibilities come to mind. The first is that at PCI the client’s success has always been more important to us than our own.
This is not a tag line or a management dictum. It was never decided by a task force. It just is.
One way or another, the people who PCI has managed to attract and retain over the years are people who get their juice from doing things that make a positive difference for a client. The motivation is creating stuff that works, and (at least occasionally) getting some praise for doing so. The arguments are over what will serve the client’s need best.
This can have its disadvantages! Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we have a business to run and payroll to meet. But the true definition of a principle or value that is core is one that an organization continues to abide by even when it hurts.
Overall, though, I think this focus on client success has a salutary effect. It certainly can change the nature of the relationship between client and agency. Instead of customer and vendor – which all too often becomes customer vs. vendor – PCI has often been blessed with the status of trusted partner or friend.
We have had to become good listeners, because it’s not always obvious what success is for a client.
And we’ve had to become particularly good learners, because we have to understand enough about each client’s business to know how we can contribute.
There are certainly times where we fail to place the client’s success above the company’s or our own as individuals. It’s also not unusual for us to experience some “creative dissonance” with our clients’ ideas of the best way to get where they’re going. But on the whole, it is gratifying to hear statements like “you guys feel like an extension of our team,” or “you care more about our project than we do.”
I don’t know if this kind of client focus can be built at an agency that doesn’t have it to begin with. I do believe that it has led to long-term client relationships for PCI, and in turn to the success we have enjoyed since the company began.