The virus inside agencies

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By Aaron Templer

There are plenty of indicators that the traditional ad agency model is ripe for disruption. Are they relevant? Are their margins appropriate, and in service to their or their client’s needs? Are their efforts focused in the right places? Are their models flexible enough to adapt?

I come from the client side of this relationship. I’ve hired and managed agencies and have only run a small in-house shop. I won’t pretend to be an expert in their business, and can’t offer any fresh insights to what’s ahead for them.

I also have extremely valuable relationships with agencies and their talent. Mine is a creative background, and I see tremendous value in the contributions agency talent will continue to offer the world.

But clearly there’s a long-running virus in agencies that should be mitigated if they want to stay relevant. The virus has been around as long as I’ve been involved with them, and probably much longer. A virus you can’t find in any meaningful degree within other industries like law, consulting, or financial institutions.

The virus attacking their relevance is an open and blatant disdain for clients. 

Below are four links that demonstrate the problem (all of them, by the way, came to me – I haven’t searched for any of these). Seems to me that especially today – as agencies face a tumultuous and unknown future – agency folks should actively troll blogs to put an end to this kind of chatter. Inside humor (at best) that clients won’t ever understand but – make no mistake – will and do find.

(Those social media, everyone-tells-brand-stories, new-world principles agencies claim to be able to help their clients embrace and leverage? They apply to the agency world, too.)

Four examples of the chasm between the agency world and the world in which their clients live. Attitudes that will surely drive clients away from hiring traditional agencies (I know it drove me away toward other solutions at one point in my career).

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Advice from an ad agency on how to be a good client

Business people (clients) deal with aligning values of stakeholders every moment of every day, within relationships much more sophisticated than those of their agencies. It’s a core business competency in fact. More listening and less dogmatism might help better client relationships.

An open dialog revealing where an agency’s focus is

I was surprised to find this argument taking place in such an open forum. An art director and copywriter bicker back and forth, revealing where exactly the client’s needs fall in relation to their own (nowhere, if I’m reading the dialog correctly).

What would an agency do if it was their money?

This blogger openly demonstrates his disconnect with his “spineless wonder” clients by suggesting agencies should only present ideas to clients if the ideas are worthy of an agency’s own money. Not a bad litmus test for a services industry, but shouldn’t ROI for a client’s budget be the baseline? Shouldn’t all ideas that are presented be worthy of the costs associated with them as opposed to a radical and innovative approach to adding value?

Ideas after they leave the confines of the brilliant agency

Another common approach to humor among agencies: muse about what happens to ideas when the other interests involved in the marketing chain put their values on the table. Instead of understanding the need in business to align multiple stakeholders, these types of comments demonstrate a lack of understanding to how the business world actually works.

5 Comments

  • Allow me to be the first, and probably only person, to comment on this verbal diarrhea. I’m not entirely sure that you’ve done any research to back up your article; two of the four examples you use are from my column. So, let me ask you this – what is wrong with considering your ideas before presenting them to a client? What is wrong with wondering if you would your own money on an out-of-the-box idea? In my opinion, this is the kind of thinking that most agencies do not do. ROI is just what the article is talking about – make the most of the client’s money to get more back in return. Don’t do a flashy idea for the sake of it, do something that works. Isn’t that the point? And as far as advice to a client goes, you seem to be under the misconception that all clients are working for shareholders and ultimately have no choice about the marketing decisions they make. And yet, some clients manage to trust an agency, follow some of the advice in the article, and go on to give the shareholders way more in return. There are good clients, there are bad clients, but they all report to the same basic management and monetary structure. So that, my friend, is no excuse for poor work and you cannot blame bad client decisions on “more complex relationships.” Gimme a break. Maybe you can sit down and ponder that one when you’re not trawling the internet for a few seconds of research.

  • AT

    Well, it’s with a few mixed emotions that I thank you for taking the time to be the first to respond to this post. It’s obviously a new blog, and I’m so new to the exercise that I still have that new blogger smell. So while I’m glad to have the response, I’m disappointed to have miscommunicated in such a way that it solicited such a defensive and cheeky response.

    I was trying to illustrate the chasm of thinking between agencies and the businesses that agencies serve. I found your posts to contain ideas about what clients expect from agencies and consultants – a baseline. Not a breakthrough idea. More to the point, I can’t imagine in my wildest dreams ever disrespecting a client by calling them a “spineless wonder.”

    As for complex relationships, I deliberately used the word “stakeholder,” not “shareholder.” A few seconds of research on the internet will reveal the difference.

    Apparently I missed the mark (with you, anyway). Or you buttressed my point. Either way, thanks again for taking the time to respond. Given the volume of posts over the years from The Denver Egotist (which I very much enjoy) I can imagine how busy you must be.

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