Why are agencies and clients like oil and water?

Hiring creative agencies to help you build your image, be it your logo, brochure, website, packaging and advertising is tricky. Or PR, video, social media or online initiative. There are so many agencies, all of which pretty much look the same, smell the same and do the same thing. And in the heat of the pitch, they’re going to strut to their best stuff. But ask most agencies to tell you why them, they’ll all tell you how creative they are, how they use the latest research and how strategic they are with each of their clients. And focused on results.

Problem is, no one cares about your business likeĀ  you do. No one. Agencies often only care so far as it gets them a new account. They deliver a great product out of the gate and then fall off. They’ll promise much, but once you seal the deal, often your left with regurgitated creative. Lackluster effort and disappointed. Yet time after time I hear about clients’ frustrations with agencies.

But I can’t always point fingers at the agencies. I’ve heard an equal number of stories about bad clients. You know who you are. The ones that don’t articulate what they want up front. That don’t set measurable goals. That say they want great work but really don’t. That make the agency jump through 67 rounds of changes, watering down the concept with each iteration.

I’ve always believed it takes a good client to get good work. You must have trust and look at as a partnership rather than a transaction. But that costs money. Agencies need billable hours so if they win your account and you grind them hard on price because you must, they’re forced to pursue the next account and repeat the cycle. It’s vicious and most often both parties lose.

Good creative takes time. And that costs money. It takes time to learn your business, your processes. To get the working relationship right. But companies are impatient for results Like the music industry, an agency has to hit a home run out of the gate to have a chance at the next campaign. The next budget cycle.

And the smaller the agency the harder they must constantly chase work. I know. I was there once. It’s brutal. Fact is, to succeed today, you need to deliver results on both sides. The client has a lot of internal selling to do to push breakthrough creative. There are a lot of dots to connect. And the agency has a lot of work to do to stand out in the market.

Agencies would do themselves a service to hone their skills – deliver something clients can’t get by hiring freelance talent from the creative staffing firms. The same ones agencies pull from. They need the emotional tug to draw clients in. Then wow them with great service and great work that delivers results for the clients. They need to be that outside guide helping the client see what they can’t because they’re too close to it.

In return, clients need to trust their agencies to deliver that great work. To take the time to hire an agency who’ll become their trusted long-term partner. To do the work you hired them to do. Not the safe stuff everyone gravitates to. That’s just noise. It feeds the downward cycle.

Business models are rapidly changing. Just like the magazine and newspaper industries are upended, so is the ad biz. Technology makes it easier for clients to do a lot of what agencies used to do themselves. So agencies, to justify their existence, need to reinvent themselves. Offer what the client can’t do themselves. The deep expertise.

It’s time to think different as Apple said a few years ago. We both need each other. We need to find the common ground where each derives value from the other. Isn’t that what any business is about?

One comment

  1. Juan Pablo says:

    Sad to say, we faced a dissappointed client today. Us almost entirely to blame. Thing is, client was actually another agency, and they were not a very good client at that. Lesson of the day: learn more about inter-agency cooperation. We’re gonna need it in this.

    Thanks for the knowledge!

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