Agencies Will Work Like Hair Salons

Photo cred: PJ Rosenberger
Photo cred: PJ Rosenberger

When you walk in (or call in) to a hair salon, you have two options.  Choose the stylist that you prefer, or have the next available one assigned to you.

Earlier this week, following my post about personal branding while on the clock, I had a conversation on twitter about agencies and personal branding.  See where I’m going yet?

From that conversation I came up with the concept of an agency, where the brand signing with the agency is familiar with the personal brands of each employee within that agency, and they are able to hand pick who they want to work on their project.

Then Curtiss Grymala placed the concept perfectly, by comparing it to a hair salon.  You can either choose the professional that you already know and who’s abilities you trust, or you can be assigned to the next available employee.

Currently, when brands sign with an agency, they’re signing with the agency as a whole, and are usually assigned to the employees who have the time to take on the account.  How the account is handled, and by who it is handled, is entirely up to the agency.

I think that the increased focus on personal brands will change this.  Sure, much of the project assignment will still be left up to the agency to determine.  If a brand knows of an employee that they’d like to specifically work on their account however, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be allowed to.

The best, hardest working employees, that have established a strong personal brand, will be the ones that receive the opportunities.

Personal branding, will no longer just be important for the unemployed and the self employed…but the professional world as a whole.

I have nothing to back these claims up, other than it just makes sense.  What are your thoughts?

27 thoughts on “Agencies Will Work Like Hair Salons

  1. This is the best analysis of how personal branding will affect the agency world that I have read thus far.

    Kick ass dude. Makes total sense and the use of an existent model to illustrate the point only furthers my faith in the conclusion. Good stuff.

  2. This is in effect happening now at shops with superstars that play the visibility game well…ahem…Alex Bogusky. Agencies play this game with talent all the time — carefully measuring visibility of the individual versus agency visibility. Of course what you are talking about is not necessarily agency principals, but superstar AEs and ACDs, etc. It’s not as well delivered as you have done here in this analogy, but it is already happening. The talent that is fast-tracked are the ones in demand — the ones clients desire. The wrinkle, I think, is that now with social media, the personal brand is more accessible to the client. Nice visual. And important reminder about our voice and personal place in the

    1. It definitely plays a role in how things are done currently, but I think with the growth of social tools and as it becomes increasingly expected to build a strong personal brand, we’ll see this type of system become more prevalent in agencies.

      Thanks for the comment Gretchen.

  3. David

    Very interesting angle and analogy. While I think there is great merit to the idea, what about the other side of the coin — employees/agency from a cost structure perspective. In that salon, those stylists are “renting” that chair and the styling of hair takes a fraction of time vs managing a brand. So will the economics work? Will employees basically become perma tempts to their agency networks? Would that reduce agencies to something akin to talent agencies in Hollywood. Will we all have our own Ari or Loyd watching out for our next project?

    I think this is a great conversation but to realistically have it, you have to start with the cost side not client side of the equation. If you can sustain it financially then it’s never got a chance of happening IMHO.

    Thanks for starting the convo, maybe we’ll carry it on over beers at BlogWorld. Remember Stuart is buying.

  4. Great point. Actually, originally I thought about it in terms of a financial consultancy, where each individual is responsible for finding clients, and maintaining those accounts. Obviously, given the service, it can’t work exactly like a financial consultancy.

    The thing is, I see the importance and acceptance of personal brands growing, quickly, inside and outside of the office. I think it’s inevitable that these personal brands will start to play a larger role in how agencies function. We’re not going to see a full switch over to this sort of system, although over time, I think we’ll start to see some changes.

    Will definitely have to continue at blogworld. Although on Stuart’s tab, I don’t know that I’ll be functioning by the time you arrive 😉

  5. I think this is a very interesting business model concept for branding and marketing agencies. It will be interesting to see, if this becomes a reality, what the impact on timeliness will be.

    Will clients be willing to wait months before they’re project is started, just because they chose a specific consultant? A lot of that, of course, is going to depend on how good that specific consultant is, and how urgent the marketing project is. I could definitely see some clients being willing to do so, though.

  6. Interesting analogy, David.

    Part of the value an agency brings to the table is the depth and breadth of experience. Instead of just getting one person, the client has access to a full team of people. The client typically has one central point of contact, but that’s certainly not the only person working on the account. I’ve heard this strange analogy used when discussing “behind the scenes” of agency life — clients don’t want to know how sausage is made. Clients really are just concerned with the end product and the results generated. With that in mind, here are just a few questions to further the discussion:

    Will clients pick their whole team, or just the primary person? (My thought: Clients don’t normally know, or care, about the skill sets of the supporting cast at an agency. The agency management is best suited to make those staffing decisions, from a cost and talent perspective.)

    What happens if that person doesn’t have the capacity available to be the project lead, but could still support the effort?

    What happens when that person bills out at an hourly rate that doesn’t align with the client’s budget needs? But, other people in the agency are just as well-equipped to get the job done, and within the budget requirements?

    It’s a very interesting concept. While the notion of personal branding is changing business development, we should remember that people have always had personal brands. These online tools simply allow those brands to have more reach. But, even in the olden days, clients often picked agencies because they had a relationship with someone there, or because they were referred by someone else who had a positive experience with that agency. While social media eliminates geographical constraints (a good thing), we should remember that clients have been choosing agencies based on reputation since the beginning.

    Just my two cents. Sorry it got so long. Excellent topic!

    Heather (@prtini)

    1. Heather,

      GREAT points and thanks for continuing the discussion.

      Correct me if I’m wrong about any of this, as I have limited experience with agencies (one highly valuable and interactive internship)

      True, many times agencies have a previous relationship with someone in the agency that causes them to choose that agency. Many times though, brands will put out a request for proposal (RFP) and agencies will bid for the account. This means that they don’t have a previous relationship with many agencies, and are looking for the best value.

      The way I see it, is a brand wouldn’t choose their entire team, but they’d have in mind at least one person that they’d like to work with.

      Much like in a hair salon where a customer must take into account the availability of a stylist, and the price, a brand will only be able to choose agency employees that are within their budget and time restrictions.

      Also very true that people have always had personal brands. I think however, that new technologies have allowed every professional to build their personal brands to such a greater extent that we’ll start to see it play a larger role in the agency model (and in many other business models).

      It’s certainly not a system that is full proof, and it may be a lofty prediction, but I think that this trend will become more prevalent, slowly, but surely.

      1. RE: the RFP process, I think it actually depends on the agency. If you’re a local or even regional firm with a strong reputation, much of your work will come from word-of-mouth. I’ve worked for a couple agencies, and at both, the vast majority of our work came from referrals and/or relationships. I’ve also had the chance to participate in the RFP process on multiple occasions.Certainly, there are some brands that use the RFP process, but even then, the internal people have a “favorite” and could skew the RFP to that agency’s strengths. So, it goes again back to who you know — your reputation and your company’s reputation. And, in that respect, it is similar to the hair salon model.

        1. Got ya. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

          I think at the very least, having employees with strong personal brands, will increase the overall reputation of your agency (as it always has) and will influence the client’s decision when choosing an agency.

          (Even if you don’t get the top stylist, you know that if a really reputable stylist works there, it must be a good salon)

  7. Having worked on both agency and corporate – When you’re in the professional realm, the corporate brand defines your personal brand, not vice versa. In this case, agencies are the corporate brand. Your ideas are valued, but you can’t let your personal brand rule the corporate side.

    1. I agree…that is how it has been done. I think, even currently, that personal brands are playing a bigger role in how corporate brands are perceived. Particularly in media/marketing.

      Results are a different story. If you work for an agency and you do great things for a client, within the agency you’ll receive congratulations, but outside it’s the agency that looks good. So yes, ultimately, it’s the corporate brand that you are defining.

      In new business development however, personal brands will start to play a larger role, and the focus will not lie solely on the brand of the agency as a whole.

  8. It’s the same in corporate. Like I always say, it’s not about you, it’s about the brand. In this field, you have to be willing to take the backseat, and accept the praise from your peers. You won’t get the spotlight.

    Personal brands, IMO, shouldn’t have a big role in the corporate brand. Your personal brand should already reflect the corporate brand when you’re working.

    1. Agreed. As you’ve heard me say before, all of your resources should go to your company brand, before your personal.

      I don’t think this will necessarily be possible anymore though.

      We spoke about personal branding while working for a brand in my post about personal branding from 9-5. From the comments there, it seems that many already consider it to be not only necessary, but helpful to the corporate brand, for them to build their personal brands.

      If everyone has their own network of professional peers and relationships, outside of their company’s brand, it will be impossible to keep the two separate, and personal brands will start to play a larger role.

      1. I went back and read it – and found that many with that viewpoint work for an agency. It takes me back to the whole ‘coporate side knows the brand, agencies only know what brand discloses’ argument. Maybe the personal brand will play a bigger role in agencies to fill the holes that a brand leaves.

  9. Great post, as always!

    My thoughts are going to come from a different angle because my first job my four years of high school was as a receptionist at a hair salon…and I am actually addicted to getting my hair cut…haha

    So…while there is the whole “do I go with someone I know has done a good job before or do I take the next available?” you have to remember that 9 times out of ten the first time you (or the person who suggested that preferred hair stylist to you) originally had that hair stylist you were waiting for the next available.

    And I’ll throw you a 3rd scenario…you’re waiting to get your hair cut with the next available employee and you see a stylist doing a kick-ass job on someone else’s hair and say “I want to wait on her” instead of taking the next available.

    Sometimes seeing is believing.

    That being said – you say “The best, hardest working employees, that have established a strong personal brand, will be the ones that receive the opportunities.” but I say that sometimes it’s the ones who are *given* the opportunities who will be able to establish the best personal brand.

    does that makes sense?

    1. I’m a strong believer in earning opportunities. It’s not easy to start off, because you have to have opportunity to earn it, but I think typically, you won’t be given the opportunity unless you earn it.

      This may be a disconnect in the hair salon analogy, as stylists may get the opportunity, without actually proving that they deserve it. Although, they did have to earn the chair, no?

      1. Like anywhere (hair salons, pr companies, car dealerships…wherever) you have to be hired, so yes, you have to earn that job (though on an unrelated note there are also “freelance” hair stylists that will rent chairs in salons but are unaffiliated with the company).

        So there is some sort of merit involved, but if you’re at an agency already, then (in my experience) a team will take on your account…so it’s not really like waiting for the “next available” if you aren’t hand-selecting who works on your account because there’s people at all different levels working to uphold that brand.

        If you get a bad haircut, it typically reflects poorly on that one hair stylist…if you have a bad campaign, there’s an entire team of people that are going to look bad and it can affect your whole agency.

        Also, you get what you pay for (as far as budgets/billing/etc.) if you go to a low end hair salon they can probably do a simple hair cut, but if you want the star treatment with the shampoo, cut and style, you’re gunna have to pay more…

        1. Katie- Agree with your comments, and re: “receive” vs.”given” the opportunities, I’d argue it’ll be those that seek, create, take and make the most of all opportunities (without overstepping their bounds). David is 100% right that the chances have to be earned. From my limited agency experience, I agree with Lauren that the agency/corporate brand will come first. Provided you do a good job on behalf of the agency and the client, it’ll reflect well on your own professional reputation, and you should earn the opportunities.

          Now, if I get a bad haircut, I of course blame the stylist. But do I also blame the salon/brand, or do I give them the chance to correct the mistake, assign or let me wait for a different stylist next time?

          David- I think it will be a mix. Per Heather’s, other comments regarding the client’s wishes for specific talent and budgetary needs, I think the agency’s own management expertise will guide/direct the client as to the best team of talent to handle the account. A client may want persons A and B on their account, but agency directors will know their strengths and weaknesses, and will assign talent J and T to fill the gaps and make the strongest possible team for the client, lest they risk giving bad haircuts. FWIW.

  10. The lessons seem to apply to any professional service business where it is not uncommon to see specific individuals or the “A team” listed by name in the service agreement. An agency may become more like an airplane – a collection of 60,000 parts flying in close formation – than a rigid structure with a pre-defined model for producing work.

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