This post is part of our new series, The Rowland Bookshelf, where we talk about the ideas and content that have changed the game for us.
At every business, there are a few books that shape the culture. One that impacted me early on was The Win Without Pitching Manifesto by Blair Enns, a twelve-declaration rejection of old business development methods in creative industries.
One cornerstone idea in this book is that thinking is as important as project execution. Good thinking is where trust and great relationships—the kind that always underpins great work—are formed. It’s part of why someone would choose one agency over another.
This idea, along with others, has shaped our process at Rowland Creative in significant ways. I wanted to share five of my favorite declarations and how they show up in our business.
1. We will specialize
When teams really value their work and abilities, they get specific about what they can do and say no to work that doesn’t fit. It’s been a process, but we’ve identified some key niches that we tend to do well in: B2B companies, particularly in tech and in higher education strategy initiatives. We can and will specialize further. But for now, it’s been really helpful for us, our clients and potential clients to know some basic limits—like we don’t design personal sites or platforms for service companies or products for a mass audience.
What we’ve learned is that we do a really good job identifying all the people in our clients’ worlds and the impact those people have on purchasing decisions—the essence of good B2B marketing. And in conjunction with that, our design aesthetic works well for our niche: it’s clean, sharp, direct, and adaptable for corporate personalities and messaging.
2. We will replace presentations with conversations
It used to be the case that creative agencies showed up to business development meetings with PowerPoints to pitch their skills, portfolio and strengths. Designers would show up with fully developed solutions to problems they hadn’t even heard.
We threw that model out the window. We see our clients as collaborators, not as problems to solve.
Instead, we succeed through conversation. We listen to our clients and hear what they need. Recently, a marketing team sent us an email after an initial meeting with us to tell us they valued how we listened and asked questions. We weren’t pitching ourselves. We weren’t trying to fit their problem into our favorite solutions. We were just trying to identify what they needed. And that built trust—and trust makes great design.
3. We diagnose before we prescribe
We ask a lot of questions. Before we decide on any course of action, we question any assumptions in the room and make sure we haven’t missed something key. We don’t automatically assume that our clients need us to make a new marketing strategy or introduce automated marketing or a video animation or anything else. We work with our people to make sure we fully understand the problem then identify the solution.
This process is our discovery phase. It’s part of every project we do. Some discovery phases are more in depth than others, but each turns up important information that is critical to doing great work.
4. We will be selective.
When an inquiry comes in, we say no as often as we say yes. Sometimes a potential client doesn’t fit because of the industry. Sometimes the personalities aren’t a match, or the project scope or the perceived needs don’t match our skills.
Being clear about who we work with means that we end up with clients who value our thinking as much as our doing; they understand what it takes for great work to happen. That has allowed us to expand our services from design execution to full marketing strategy. In many ways, we never were just about design execution, but now we’ve publically become an agile, versatile, and highly skilled creative agency.
5. We will build expertise rapidly
There is nothing that makes us crazier than the assumption that the way it worked before is how it should work now. We are growing as a team, as individuals, and as an agency. Our designs keep getting better; our strategy is on point; our business model gets stronger. And we’ve added the right people to the team when we knew we couldn’t simply make up the gap through personal learning.
How it all comes together
Manifesto aside, all of this is about doing the best work possible for our clients. We do the work that we do out of trust that we’ve built carefully and thoughtfully. Our talent is all in support of being the right agency for our clients with services and solutions that actually meet their needs.
I love changes like these in the industry. I’m so glad it isn’t the same game I had to learn when I started. It’s made it a better place for creative—and an even better place for our clients. It’s where great thinking results in great doing.