Last updated on January 19, 2023
One of the most common fears, shared by just about every one of FEAR Incorporated’s clients, is the fear of not having enough new money flowing into their companies. This is often referred to as top-line growth. In the advertising industry they call it “new business”. We have had the honor of helping numerous advertising agencies fail by way of fear throughout the late 1990’s and early 2000’s while they were getting gobbled up by holding companies. Since these holding companies are publicly traded, they found themselves under the crushing pressure to deliver continuous growth. Like every great leader, they masterfully passed on this fear of constantly growing to the agencies they owned. Brilliantly aware that this model was unsustainable, the South American advertising holding company, Kramer, brought in FEAR Incorporated to develop a new operating model that would guarantee the failure of the agencies under their umbrella.
Our first order of business was to implement the mission statement: “Win at all costs”. These simple yet powerful words helped Kramer lay the foundation for making sure their agencies deftly spent more money to make less money. Every department of Kramer was incentivized to focus solely on the top-line growth. This strategy came with a hidden benefit. Since everyone had their eye on the prize of winning new business, attention was taken off the health of the agency’s current clients. As more and more of Kramer‘s clients walked out the door due to this lack of attention, the pressure to win new business skyrocketed. The brilliance of this model is that on the surface the staff within the agencies were working harder than they ever – burning the proverbial midnight oil. In the first quarter under the “win at all costs” mantra, many of the teams were recording 80–90-hour work weeks. Burnout became a badge of honor. Employees were sleeping in the new business “war room”. One of the agency CEOs was heard screaming the slogan, “If you don’t come in Saturday, don’t bother coming in Sunday”. Yet, no matter how hard they worked, we can proudly report, profits continued to shrink.
“Winning at all costs” also skillfully created an exaggerated fear of losing. This allowed us to implement a financial structure within Kramer where the only costs to the company that weren’t questioned were the new business expenses. Anyone who dared to interrogate the spending of money in an effort to win was vilified and branded as “anti-winning”. Expensive freelancers were brought in while staff was pulled off of paying business all in the effort to win new business. The fear of losing grew to such a fevered pitch that Kramer was willing to show up to a potential client and just give away multiple ideas for free. In the end, even when the agency won the new business, they often had spent well north of a million dollars in time and expenses to win a $750,000 contract. FEAR proudly stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Kramer leadership as their agency celebrated putting new money in the top and watched with pride as a greater amount of money was flowing out the bottom.
Another upside to having your entire team focused on winning new business is that the quality of the agency’s work for existing clients severely suffers. During our time with Kramer, we witnessed many of their client teams grow more and more subservient to the client demands, agreeing to anything asked of them while never pushed back on any comment for the fear of losing the business. Essentially the agency became clerks. The slipping of the quality of the product, mixed with the evaporation of thought leadership naturally led to the questioning of the agency’s relevance. When we reached this highpoint with a Kramer agency, we advised the holding company to fold the remaining assets of the failing agency into another agency under their umbrella, distribute those who championed the failing model of the company, and lay off the rest.
NOTE: In order to have the support of your C-Suite, make sure to connect their bonuses to the top-line growth and the rest of the staff to the bottom line. This allows you pay your leadership while legitimately show the rest of the staff they did not qualify for a bonus or raise.
If you would like to discover the benefits that comes from implementing the “win at all costs” model, please reach out to our Chief Fear Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
(Names of companies and employees have been redacted due to legal article 420-28a and article 129-11b)