By Rob Whittle, CEO, Williams Whittle

In 2012, toward the end of the Great Recession, I made the decision to restructure the entire agency as it was approaching its 50th year in business. Theretofore, we had been a generalist shop like ninety percent of the agencies we competed with. You’re a car dealer group? C’mon, we got experience. Homebuilder? Check. QSR franchise? Got it. There seemed to be no client category in which we didn’t have experience, and we went after any and everything with a decent success rate. 

I was on a transatlantic flight that spring when I wrote a manifesto for what we came to call Williams Whittle 2.0. We had had several nonprofit clients for which we created wildly successful campaigns—the USO and the American Red Cross, among others. Moreover, we liked the work—felt good about working for worthy causes. And, not least, we had developed a proprietary way of marketing nonprofits that is measurable and superior.

I returned from my trip and actually fired a client or two—no more condos and car dealers for us. The challenge, of course, was getting the word out about our new positioning. And testing my theory that our new biz win-rate would be higher as experts in a vertical category. Well, we’re still working on the former, but have seen great results in the latter.

Today, we have clients in cancer research, hospitals, military charities, recycling, public television, housing for the underserved, emergency services and others. We love our clients and the good works they provide. 

I also believe that by specializing, we are able to deliver better results for our clients. We don’t spend valuable time learning about the category; in fact, we are often in a position to teach our clients a marketing trick or two. Recruiting, too, is easier. Would you rather spend your career marketing toothpaste, or recycling, cancer research and helping military families of fallen soldiers?

The specialization strategy is not for everyone nor for the faint of heart. It’s very difficult to turn down opportunities when they come knocking. In fact—full confession—we retained a major real estate client during the transition (hey, I ain’t crazy!) until they were sold a couple of years ago. Now, our client list is 100% nonprofit. There have been bumps in the road aplenty, but we’ll never go back to trying to be all things to all people.

For more on “Ideas that Generate Change for Nonprofits”, visit our website: williamswhittle.com.

WilliamsWhittle is a Capitol Communicator sponsor.

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