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Agency Life Lessons Learned Waiting Tables

How do you find success working at an agency? We actually feel there’s a lot of similarities working at an agency and in food service or a restaurant. How do these two concepts even relate, you ask? We equate the diner to the client and the restaurant staff to the agency. We find this analogy helps to illustrate the dynamic and mindset of working at an agency. The diner is waited on, feasts and leaves full and happy (hopefully!). The staff hustles and bustles and works to meet (and ideally exceeds) expectations to try and guarantee a return customer.

Here are four lessons learned from working in restaurants that have helped us become successful at a marketing agency:

#1: Set Expectations

“If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.” ~ Terrell Owens

When a customer chooses a restaurant, there’s a level of expectation accompanying that choice – experience, price, taste, etc. Similarly, agency-client relationships are built around setting and delivering on expectations. It’s the team’s responsibility to work together to meet those expectations. And, it’s imperative any deviation is communicated, or you risk a bad review or no repeat customers.          

Let’s say, for instance, what you ordered wasn’t available. Most of the time, any disappointment is easily dismissed if the server lets you know immediately and then promptly recommends something similar. This is also true for agencies. Things will not always go right, no matter how much you plan and strategize. We've found the key is clear expectations and clear communication. In fact, we embrace the mantra: “no surprises”.

#2: Balance Objectives

“Great salespeople are relationship builders who provide value and help their customers win.” ~ Jeffrey Gitomer

There will be times when a restaurant wants to push a special du jour. The same thing happens at an agency when a new solution or capability is ready to go-to-market. It’s the role of the team to assess and ultimately determine if it’s a good fit for the customer.

We can’t sell things blindly. This may bring short term revenue, but will it be at the cost of return patronage? At the end of the day, our job is to add value to our client’s business, not just to sell them “stuff”. Clients want to know what’s in it for them, not what’s best for you. Don’t get us wrong, we’re in this business to make a profit. But, the best client-agency relationships exist when both win. 

#3: Build Trust

"The people when rightly and fully trusted will return the trust." ~ Abraham Lincoln

The restaurant life has plenty to do with the agency lifeRestaurants will sometimes find they need to evolve their concept as new ingredients, techniques and trends are introduced. Consumers look to a restaurant’s staff to guide them to what’s new, hot and ‘now’ but also delicious. 

The same thing happens with agencies as the marketing industry rapidly changes, sometimes daily! Clients oftentimes lack the time and resources to stay abreast of this ever-changing marketing ecosystem. This is where agencies come in – acting as a trusted advisor and partner. It’s our responsibility to proactively bring best practices and emerging trends to help clients continue to drive business results.

#4: Stay Composed

“When things are steep, remember to stay level-headed.” ~ Horace

We’ve all had that feeling where you find yourself ‘in the weeds’. It can sometimes be nearly paralyzing. This can happen at restaurants and agencies alike – whether it's a table of 10 being seated during the lunch rush hour or a new client onboarding that took months to win. These are high stress times.

It’s during these moments, when it feels like the water line is rising, that it’s important to take a deep breath and keep the big picture in mind. Don’t let the chaos take over. Instead, circle the wagons and focus – set priorities, delegate and collaborate. The adage ‘there’s no ‘I’ in team” is true. It is important to be flexible and nimble – avoiding a “that’s not my job” mentality. This mindset can help a team pull together and ensure client satisfaction – no matter the situation.

“Only a life lived in the service to others is worth living.” ~ Albert Einstein

Working in a service role can be complex and trying but also very rewarding and satisfying. There are many internal and external pressures for time, attention, and success. Our goal is to create happy customers who will keep coming back for years. We’ve found the keys to success are being a good listener and a good communicator, building trust and providing continuous value to clients – all while having a strong desire to succeed.

Bon Appetit!