When SMS was founded by Bob Norton in 1979, it was partially built on the idea that a full-service agency that understood the language and unique challenges of the B-2-B scientific and high-tech industrial marketplaces would more efficiently turn marketing budgets into increased market share. Most agencies at the time (and now) operated from a central salesforce that supplemented their limited in-house services by utilizing outside vendors to complete projects. This resulted in cascading markups and unavoidable inconsistencies in the quality of work, which led to costly redos and unhappy clients.
Since the advent of Internet technology, agencies have ridden the supposition that electronic communication would mostly remove these inconsistencies and the tactical and creative worlds were now connected enough to be considered “in-house”. In part, that’s true. It’s rare that a designer needs to “mock up” a look and walk it over to a client representative for review, and files are far more easily shared with clients via downloading applications. I still remember waiting at the door for envelopes of photo transparencies and in some ways I miss that. You knew the work was checked dozens of times and you rarely felt apprehensive about what was inside…
…which acts as a segue to what I’ve been wondering: has the quality of work and professional service suffered with technological expediency, offsetting the value-add? While it’s much easier to break creative barriers and supply something new, simple follow-through and planning can just as easily slip away. When human interaction was necessary, the warm press of the palm was frequently the only guarantee a client or prospect needed. Professional pride in one’s ability to service a client – or an employer/employee – was always in check. Having a team around your project kept things running smoothly, especially as the team grew together. Convenience wasn’t a subject of conversation, although speed certainly was as deadlines loomed. Still, the long-form focus on client needs maintained synergy and strengthened professional bonds, with the resulting sense of trust catalyzing the innovation of ideas.
All this is to say that it feels like there is a diminishing return to increased isolation while casting one’s net as wide as the earth with the push of a button. The promise of unlimited reach, extended to all regardless of intent, has perhaps reaped a chaotic marketing environment that has wounded professional trust. At SMS, we strive to customize our approaches to prospects so that they feel understood and know we share their values. However, it’s become harder to prove that when the mediums of communication have become tainted with spam, viruses, phishing, AdWord wars, and global piracy. Where it once felt that anyone could compete, with it emerges a sense that anyone can become lost – not just interpersonally but also in your marketplace.
So what are we doing to combat this creeping ennui? Well, in some ways we’ve been doing it for 40 years by remaining a cohesive team that gives a damn about our clients. If you reach out to any one of us, you get a speedy reply. If you call, we pick up. If you have a question, we’ll talk about it until we arrive at the right answer. If you want to sit down and go over your marketing activities, we’ll clear our schedules, our desks, and our heads. We take the time because we believe our experience as a full-service, in-house, hands-on agency adds real value to our partnerships. We do all of this for free because the scope of your marketing activities shouldn’t be reined in by the hidden limits of technology or a running meter.
And it all starts with a handshake.
– S. Norton