Posts Tagged ‘Client Agency Relationship’

Today I’m going to kick off a multi-part series that addresses some of the challenges facing the changing client/agency relationship, along with some solutions that clients and agencies can work together to implement. Let’s just call it – Client/Agency Therapy.

Since this is the introductory Client-Agency Therapy post, i wanted to set the stage with a few principles, disclaimers and caveats.

  1. My goal is to help clients and agencies establish better working relationships, not to bash agencies (or clients). There are plenty of agencies and clients who buck the trends, really have their acts together and should be an inspiration to their peers.
  2. We live in interesting times. We’re working in a difficult and quickly evolving business climate that has been less forgiving than in the past. We are all tasked with doing more with less. We need to cut each other a little slack sometimes and foster positive and motivating relationships that focus on improving the future rather getting hung up on past negativity. That said, due diligence should not be taken lightly, and complacency and inefficiency should not be tolerated.
  3. We must all strive to be the best at what we do and instill this characteristic in those we manage and lead; enter into relationships with the intention of a respectful partnership; and establish accountability and feedback loops that maximize business performance and ensure that expectations are being exceeded.

Here’s just a sample of some of the topics we’ll be exploring together in Client-Agency Therapy:

  • Collaboration
  • Culture alignment and culture clashes
  • Agency organization challenges
  • Client organizational challenges
  • The role of specialists and generalists
  • The vital role of process
  • The implications of efficiency, or lack thereof
  • Importance of the right marketing technologies
  • Accountability
  • How people make all the difference
  • Client expectations
  • Agency proficiency
  • A new era of procurement
  • Agility

I’m excited to address a number of topics that tend to get swept under the carpet or ignored because they are either difficult to deal with, nobody has the time to think about, or sometimes we just don’t know what we don’t know. As a veteran digital agency executive who has led and sold a successful digital agency,  managed the integration into a large agency culture, and moved on to train and consult agencies and clients, including some of the largest media agencies in the world and several leading brands, I have a variety of hands on experience to speak authoritatively on these topics. However, I also have enough humility to reach out to the community and ask you to chime in and augment and debate some of my concepts and statements. In fact, I very much look forward to the intellectual discussion and journey.

I hope that Client/Agency Therapy will also spark conversation within your organizations on how to become better digital marketers and partners.

 

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There has been a lot of talk over the last couple of years about how the “agency model is broken”. While a sexy headline for marketing trades, and a great scapegoat for clients, I find this phrase a gross misrepresentation of what has been happening in the industry.

Lovers Quarrels

First – there is truth to the client-agency relationship changing – often uncomfortably. Sometimes it is the agency’s fault for over promising, staffing non-strategic thinkers at the helm of account strategy, not fostering proper collaboration, not nurturing a culture of discovery and innovation – and sometimes the client’s fault for having unrealistic expectations, pushing agencies to do too much more with less, and not taking the responsibility to understand their own business better. But truth be told, the client and agency need each other and they both know it. Agencies need to learn how to say “no” and set realistic expectations of the new labor intensity, costs and resources required to accomplish the objectives of a client. This does fly in the face of the “old agency model” of saying “yes” first and figuring out how to execute and manage the work later. The recent resignation of the sizable Home Depot account by MRM is a a prime example of an agency forced to take a stand to ensure a profit from their work. I say kudos! Of course I don’t know if the account was improperly scoped in the first place (a common agency blunder in the over-eagerness to win an account).

MRM New York managing director Corey Mitchell wrote that “for reasons based on a fair exchange of services and a mutual inability to arrive at realistic expectations, we are choosing to walk away from our relationship with The Home Depot completely.”

Embracing Change

Undoubtedly, the only path to success on the client or agency side is to understand the seismic shift in the way we communicate with consumers,  the fragmentation of the distribution channels where we reach them, and the desensitization to marketing in general. Strategy used to be about the creative platform and how to inspire, motivate and tap into consumer passion. While these   creative and messaging objectives remain prerequisite components of an increasingly difficult task of  influencing consumers, the strategic emphasis has actually shifted to understanding how and where to reach consumers and the mechanisms  and marketing attributes that influence them. Agencies have been focusing on reintegrating services and capabilities – to a degree creating jacks of all trades, while they should be focusing on integrating strategic planning, analytics and modeling  while allowing for the growth of specialized units for the disciplines that are increasing in specialization. It’s not a silo’ed approach if the head (strategy & insights) and the tail (analytics and modeling) are driving and fostering collaboration. IPG just announced such a restructuring of their digital agency assets. Of course agency announcements and intentions sometimes vary from actual practice and proficiency.

The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Since leaving the agency world in 2007, I have been working with Laredo Group, training agencies of all sizes, including some of the largest media shops in the industry. I have seen firsthand the challenges faced and how some agencies overcome these challenges while others struggle. Additionally, I have been consulting clients and agencies, including leading client  agency reviews and selections for clients of various sizes. Big agencies get a bad rap sometimes from pundits. I must say that I have seen some impressive agencies who are embracing  and leading the charge of change, innovation and growth. I have also seen a lot of complacency, mediocrity, arrogance with resistance to change, ignorance with a desire for change, and in a couple of instances, even straight up cluelessness. It’s tough running an agency when margins are being eroded by the complexities of the marketplace and the world is evolving faster than your staff can keep up with. It’s also tough for clients who are looking to lean on their agencies for thought  leadership and executional prowess when you keep hearing how the “agency model is broken” and agencies are the bad guys.

It’s All About The Talent

The Stylistics and Michael Jackson got it right – “People Make The World Go ‘Round”. An agency IS its people. The best agencies have developed a culture that attracts and retains top talent. To a client, agencies are as good as the weakest team members assigned to their account. This is often where the biggest perception of “broken” lies. Clients – be sure to request to meet the actual team assigned to your account before working with an agency. If already engaged with an agency, take the team out to lunch, get to know them better, empower them and make them want to kick ass for you. Often times they are unappreciated and overworked. But keep an eye open for the weaker links – hey, everybody has to learn sometime – just make sure they aren’t on your strategic planning or analytics teams!

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