Clearly there are two sides (or more) to every story. And tomorrow I will talk about learning opportunities for companies. Agencies need to change how they work with customers, or we will keep changing agencies like underwear as Marc Bresseel stated recently. The biggest question I challenge you with is one -- is the agency model broken?
I think it is. I think it's time to reinvent what it means to create a different kind of experience, and it begins in the relationship with the agency itself. Here's a list of behaviors and outcomes I observed from where I sit. They should be turned around to leap forward into the future of advertising.
Let's start by talking about those behaviors that get in the way of the real work -- prioritizing a mix of communications that encourage conversation with the people who matter: customers.
- Thinking that "not invented here" is a problem. Creative is not the end all be all, it's a starting point. The real conversation happens afterwards, in the marketplace. Many companies are facing this same challenge of being led to the creative of a specific agency as Holy Grail. I see a new way of working possible - using what already exists as part of a company's DNA and building on it. Why reinvent the wheel every time?
- Focusing too much on your process and not enough on the client's business. This may be true especially in a B2B model. I am reminded that businesses are made of people, too. A deep knowledge of the industry's sales cycle, buyers' behaviors, and products/services goes a long way to create a communication piece that works. An ad is (or should be) a communication piece.
- Being inconsistent. Talent is a real problem, especially now that everyone scrambles to become "experts du jour" in social media. Yet there should not be such disparity between the promises made by the strategy team and the output delivered by the creative group.
- Lacking in originality. Leaf through a magazine and what do you see? A sea of sameness. Are these all clients who could not "go for it"? I suspect not. Every single time I dared propose something that was not "how we do things here" I was pleasantly surprised that the company would go for it. Dare to be different not for the sake of being different. Do it by becoming more yourself.
- Signing up for one thing and wanting it all before delivering on that one. This is common to too many providers. Anyone enjoy sitting in hour-long capabilities presentations? How about delivering on the project you've been given first? Your work cross-sells you. Stop talking, start doing. It never fails, we hire for excellence - experiencing excellent is the best referral of all.
- Listening but not hearing. Sometimes you may be tempted to push through early signs that you are off base. Stop saying you are listening and start hearing what the client is telling you. Do you want to know how you can tell? You are two months late on a project and the client is not talking with you anymore. They have given up.
- Making it hard to get work done. This is a corollary to the previous point. If you've been in business long enough, you should know how to elicit (and take) feedback while you keep moving on the project.
- Thinking only in terms of billable hours. In that case that's all the client ever sees. Wherever you focus your energy and attention, that's what gets brought to the fore. Soon enough the client will stop picking up the phone and calling you for projects. The whole compensation model needs to be revisited. The agency that cracks this code wins.
- Not working on the relationship. Getting to know a client's business can be very valuable to your output in the end. That is if you think in terms of relationship on not just billable hours. Do you want to know how we can tell the difference? How quickly do you email estimates and invoices and how often do you follow up on those vs. the project?
- Moving on before the work is done. Typos, slapping copy on without working from a strategy brief, a bevy of small mistakes are all indications that you've moved on, that you are not interested anymore.
It can be very rewarding to work with people who are passionate about what they do. If you are in the agency business and you don't wake up every morning wanting to change the world, you may be guilty of one or more of these sins.
I propose that the best kind of agency is the one that can be
customized to the client's needs. I've been thinking a lot about the
idea of virtual agency as a flexible solution that fits a client's business cycle. No overhead, the ability to choose the most important person in the whole group - your lead copy writer. Then finding the lead creative with the help of a creative director. No agency fees and none of that multiple agency problem where each tries to get more work in other areas.
This model requires confidence on the client's part that she can be the general manager. It has the potential to fit like a glove in the open media environment we are moving into more and more. Today, that's where we create conversations. What do you think? Could the virtual agency model work?
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