Of Course You’re Special, But You Have To Prove It

Shiv Singh, head of digital for PepsiCo and author of Social Media Marketing for Dummies has a sobering post up on his blog about his move to the client side and how he sees the agency landscape today.

Agencies are fabulous but they aren’t that fabulous. Probably the most humbling fact about moving over to the client side was the realization that agencies don’t look that different from each other from afar. When you’re on the agency side, you invariably drink your own cool aid. I certainly did a fair bit of drinking and I do feel that the agency I came from (Razorfish) is special. But differentiation between agencies is not always that clear. Everyone is reading the same trade publications, attending the same marketing conferences and seeing each other’s pitches. Yes, there’s a lot of group think.
So what does that mean for an agency? Put extra effort into figuring out what makes you special. And don’t think in terms of just having a special story but also tangible, proof points that make that story real. You’re not that special otherwise.

Singh also says digital marketing complicates life for a marketer. “As an agency person, recognize what we’re going through and be a positive part of the complexity,” he adds.
Be a positive part of the complexity? To me that means make “the complexity” easily understandable. Agency partners have to be expert in things that the client–and no one else on earth–fully comprehends, or can execute. Great agencies are able to translate that expertise for clients, so they clearly see what’s it in for them.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Good luck with that, Singh. With mega-corp holding companies controlling the industry, vanilla is fine, as are meaningless statements about agency uniqueness. Being different means taking chances, and taking chances means a possible interruption of cash flow, which leads to lower profits. Anyone who is different will be bought up, strangled into submission and brought into line. And for clients saying they want different… yeah, sure.

  2. @Sean – You could be talking about Alex Bogusky here:

    Anyone who is different will be bought up, strangled into submission and brought into line.

    The way this is framing up, being different is the hero’s path. I like that.