Agency Work as Long-Term Farming

Will Shipley wrote a great piece drawing parallels between farming vs. mining approach to running a software company. Farming is long, slow, labor-intensive, and expensive work, with little immediate reward. Mining requires a one-time stripping & razing of the land to pull everything of worth from it, and move on.

The issue he points to is that mining in software and technology has become the dominant approach, not only to run a company, but to aspire to. Everyone glamorizes the “genius” who sells high and gets out before a company crashes and burns. But lasting products of value can only be created by an approach that respects long-term reinvestment and growth.

In agency work, it’s pretty obvious which approach leads to long-term success.

I have seen hard-sell tactics that pushed for business at any cost, routinely slashing budgets and timelines simply to win business with the cheapest, quickest offering. Of course, when it came time to not only build, but develop, sustain, and nurture a set of business relationships during the development process, everyone’s patience would quickly wear thin along with the insufficient money and time available to handle the job.

Such an approach is almost a guarantee that the hard-sold business will be merely a one-off project, rather than the foundation of an ongoing, mutually-rewarding business relationship.

A great deal of this comes from the advertising approach to agency business.

As should be familiar to viewers of Mad Men, when a pitch was being prepared, life completely stopped. People worked round the clock and slept under their desks, and everything was sacrificed in the spectacular pressure cooker of hoping to wow a client  with a breakthrough creative idea.

I have been through many of these marathons. I always found it amazing how people left early and took long lunches in the months and weeks leading up to the pitch, only to make themselves and everyone else suffer and dash about wildly in total chaos at the eleventh hour.

Classic mining.

There will always be all-nighters – When you’ve made a commitment to get something out the door by a certain deadline, there will be times when extraordinary effort will be required. But a reasonable, sustainable, and level-headed approach will hopefully be the hallmark of the start of a long-term business relationship.

Have you lived through a classic pitch pressure cooker? Do you have a horror story about being forced to do and re-do work as everyone had lost their reason? Share in the comments below…

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