Last month marked my two year anniversary at Rock Candy Media. I came into the company during a time of transition. We had just moved into an office in Tech Ranch and had deliberately scaled down to be a more nimble company (this was soon after Annie’s “Scalability is Overrated” manifesto). We knew what we wanted to be – a boutique agency that could quickly respond and adapt to client needs, work one-on-one with clients and serve as both advertising experts and overall sales consultants.
We knew what we wanted to be, but getting to that point was another matter entirely. First, we had to attract a new base of clients. Until that point, RCM was mostly known for our web and print design and social media management and that’s who we were attracting, clients with limited budgets who needed a website to show off their product and a social presence.
So we changed our messaging. We started our own branding campaigns to get the word out about what RCM could really do. We changed our logo, we changed our website and we changed our approach to sales.
We got new clients, but were still hamstrung by the same issues. Our clients were still thinking very short term – get a website up, get a Facebook page up, etc. – and they were budgeting accordingly. We were still doing good work, but we were limited.
At a certain point, we wondered if things would ever change, it was, to be frank, kind of disheartening. We had so many ideas and we didn’t have the resources to execute them. And Annie always says, “An idea is nothing if there isn’t execution. It never existed.”
We hit a tipping point. Was our idea for what we wanted to be feasible? Why were we working so hard on being “the anti-template,” when it seemed like all clients wanted was a template? It was an identity crisis.
One late afternoon at Tech Ranch, we had a team meeting and just let all of our frustrations out. Once we had vented, Annie gave what can only be described as a speech. Like an honest-to-God oration on who we are and what we should strive for.
It’s been more than a year and what she said still sticks with me.
She explained what it was like for her to start Rock Candy Media. She was a single mother working alone out of a pool house. Whatever capital she had, she poured into getting RCM off the ground. Every day was a sacrifice and every decision she made could either grow or break the company.
She explained that’s who we’re serving. That’s what our clients are doing. She told us about the late phone calls she’d have with clients who were still working at 9 p.m., sacrificing their family time to make their business a success. She told us about clients who were not paying their mortgage so that they could pay us to help grow their business. She explained that it was a privilege and a massive responsibility to turn whatever clients could afford to pay us and turn it into revenue for them.
She spoke openly and candidly for almost an hour about how the clients’ businesses are our businesses, and that’s what makes RCM different. We’re not a faceless advertising firm that pawns accounts off to interns and low level managers. We’re hands-on and we’re present and we’re committed.
That dose of perspective was just what we needed to keep striving and pressing and challenging our clients. It fundamentally changed the attitude at the office.
A funny thing started happening. Our work got better. Our results got better. We gained more clients and we had more freedom to do what we really wanted to do.
In the time since that speech, we’ve brought on client after client after client, each more responsive to our thinking, each believing more in our ability achieve their goals. We’ve grown, but remain nimble. I lead our West Coast office now and gone are the days when I was personally responsible for every single deliverable that our clients see, but I still make a point to get to know each client – to see the faces of the people who are trusting us with their livelihoods.
I have to say, it makes the work better and it keeps me grounded. When it’s hour three of a strategy meeting, or I’m making the 14th revision to a piece of art for an undecided client or I’m still working at midnight, I can’t be resentful. I think about how much the clients trust us. I think about them forgoing their mortgage in order to pay me to grow their business and I feel a sense of responsibility and gratitude that’s more motivating than even my own desires.
We’re always asking ourselves internally what makes RCM different, what makes us more than all the other ad agencies and marketing consultants out there and I just have to point to that speech. In that moment, I realized the magnitude of what we do and I do my best to honor that for each client we have.