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Column: The Recession-Buster Diet

Emerging whole and maybe even healthier on the other side of the recession is sort of like sticking to a diet—it takes practice and discipline, and you can’t cheat.

To devise the recession-buster diet for the media and advertising business, I turned to Alan Burgis, the CEO of media agency EuroRSCG in San Francisco. I asked him for tips because revenue at his agency has been up so far in 2009 and his firm is still winning new business. That’s no small feat in this economy, and it’s thanks in part to extreme focus.

“What happens in these times is there is a lot of posturing or panicking, and the thing you don’t have time to do is waste time on that,” he said. “Everything has to be focused on the end game.”

Here are Mr. Burgis’ top tips:

Don’t Chase the Next Big Thing
Mr. Burgis has reduced the number of informational meetings he and his employees take to learn about smaller startups that might affect advertising. “Where you would take meetings before because you were curious, you kibosh them now because only one out of 30 will even be interesting,” Mr. Burgis said.

Make Your Cuts All at Once
If your agency is reducing staff, it’s better to do it all at once. If you do 1% this week, then 1% next week, you crush the morale. “Make sure everyone knows the overall goals and what’s expected,” he said. “Managers have to spend more time walking and talking rather than less, and spend more time with your own people.”

Don’t Cut Your Prices Too Low
As desperation levels increase, the competition—maybe even out-of-work contractors and individuals—will severely undercut your prices, Mr. Burgis warned. But you don’t have to respond in kind. “There isn’t any long-term value in doing something at $20 a month that should cost $100 a month. It’s a short-term strategy that hurts you for the long term,” he said. The key is to set a price where you can still make a profit, not one where you give your bottom line a haircut, he explained.

Go for RBIs
Don’t swing for the fences, because the risk-reward relationship is out of whack right now. “Advertisers aren’t worried about being outrageously successful,” he said. “They are worried about how to survive. Clients want people they can trust right now–someone who is going to make solid decisions rather than radical decisions. No one is required to hit a home run, but we are required to move people around the bases.”

Choose Your Partners Wisely
Evaluate partners judiciously and pair up with businesses that appear likely to succeed. Don’t be afraid to say no—link up only with businesses that align with your goals. “Stick to what you do really well and streamline all processes, so most things you do can have a good result quickly.”

Think About Growth, Not Merely Survival
“If you focus on surviving, the best you can hope for is to keep it the way it is,” Mr. Burgis said. “If you aim at growing and fall back, the worst you do is stay where you are. The mentality of survival is a fear-based one, and the concept of growth has optimism in it.”

Do Take Meetings With All Potential Clients
Pitch more. Pitch constantly. Pitch without ceasing.

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