Is it time to dump your agency? Take the test
LONDON - We've devised a compatibility test to see whether your agency is still right for your needs. Find out how they score, while Kunal Dutta explains how good relationships can go bad.
Mad Men's don Draper wouldn't get the boot
In these difficult times, just how happy are you with your agency? Is your relationship a meeting of minds? Or does distrust linger on either side? Even if things tick along nicely for now, are you hopeful of where you're headed together, or wondering what else is out there?
Don't let the economic crisis force you into stasis. Take Revolution's compatibility test to find out if your relationship is a match made in heaven, or an irreparable mess. Because one thing is certain: if your agency isn't satisfying you, there are plenty of others out there that believe they can.
You once hired an agency that was keen as mustard, blew you away with ideas and knew your business back to front. Today, that sounds like:
a. Something I remind my agency of when we stumble on hard times.
b. Tony Blair reminiscing about 1997 in 2007.
c. The agency that finished my last campaign. Work is done with passion and purpose, rather than an eagerness to please.
d. The agency that cold-called me just a minute ago.
Rarely is the initial honeymoon period between client and agency particularly long-lived. In fact the AAR suggests that many relationships fail within the first two to three years. Among the top five reasons include 'failure to listen/hear', 'lack of hunger' and 'stale thinking'. Kerry Glazer, chief executive of the AAR, says: "Dissatisfaction in relationships is usually a result of unfulfilled expectations." A simple gauge of performance is comparing how you feel now about your agency compared with the day you hired it. Has it delivered on your dreams? Have you both grown together? Or are you constantly left feeling short-changed?
Insisting they've 'cracked it', your agency presents work which you find acceptable though underwhelming. Do you:
a. Sign it off. There's no cash, time or energy left to tinker.
b. Be grateful it's not the esoteric tripe you were shown last week.
c. Highlight the positives, but use the brief to explain where it's falling short.
d. Sketch your own idea and insist they 'just copy that'.
There are a number of issues here. Working processes provide an immediate insight into the health of a relationship. Gone are the days of running into a work shed and returning three weeks later for the 'big reveal'. Proper collaborative working should not leave a brand feeling isolated and unsure of what to expect, especially this late into a project. More alarming, 'lack of delivery' and 'failure to meet the brief' are some of the most severe causes of a relationship breakdown. "You know the relationship has reached crisis when you have lost the ability to say no or find yourself compromising too much," says The Guardian's marketing director, Marc Sands. Beware too of anyone that purports to have 'cracked it'. You're buying ideas, not eggs.
Which of the following most closely reflects your agency's role?
a. To meet my briefs with creative ideas that I can sell to my board.
b. A production house for my advertising and advice on digital.
c. A consultant to my business that challenges me through its understanding of my brand and objectives. This knowledge manifests itself in engaging and effective work.
d. Oddbods with funky specs, white trainers and Hoxton haircuts.
Be honest, what exactly is your agency there for? Do you give it the tools and insight into your business to foster a partnership? Or is it there simply to bang out some ads at specific points in the marketing calendar? "It's unfair to suggest that a relationship based on cheap creative work is likely to develop into anything more meaningful," says Chris Westlake, managing partner of Weapon 7. The key is ensuring that these discussions have taken place early in the process so that both parties can make an informed decision as to whether or not they are the right fit. Digital agencies are likely to suffer as their heritage is less rooted in retained long-term relationships. "Being digital is no longer a distinctive philosophy or positioning," says Hamish Pringle, director-general of the IPA. "Agencies with digital heritage need to continue to invest in new technologies and related expertise, but add strategic planning and broader brand management skills."
You reach the end of a torturous three-hour briefing, when your agency asks for 'something in writing'. Do you:
a. Bash out an email with big picture statements ('increase sales, win audiences etc').
b. Insist they 'get started on that' and that a full brief will follow.
c. Succinctly summarise your brief. It disciplines thinking and gives everyone a yardstick with which to judge the work by.
d. Get your PA to bash something out that will tame the animals. You've spent enough time at the zoo.
Blame on this issue often lies more with the brand than the agency. In AAR research, both parties agreed that the 'briefing and approvals process' ranked as one of the most important areas of establishing solid foundations in a relationship. Yet just 46 per cent of agencies were committed to this practice, with many instead working on the fly. "Using the briefing process to work out your brief is a waste of everyone's time," says the AAR's Glazer. Tempting as it is to work organically, agencies should resist plunging in without clearly defined benchmarks. "If marketers are pressed for time, agencies should be writing the brief on the client's behalf which can then be adjusted," suggests Anil Pillai, managing director of LBi. But neither party should drive into the sunset without a roadmap.
Which of the following most closely represents how you brief your agencies?
a. Every agency gets a similar brief tailored to its specialty.
b. My ad agency has ideas. Digital adds bells, whistles and websites.
c. Agencies are aware of my objectives. They are all smart and mature enough to work together.
d. It makes no odds. I'll invariably end up having to do it all myself anyway.
Above-the-line agencies still seem to carry a degree of clout with brands, while digital agencies have to work to show they belong at the top table. "Account management is weak in many digital agencies," says Weapon 7's Westlake. "As digital matures into the mainstream, breadth of experience will become more important." But this can only materialise if the brand shows that faith in the first place. If a digital agency feels like it is playing second-fiddle to your other suppliers, that belief will be reflected in the work. Joint briefings can signal that agencies are rated equally importantly, while fostering collaborative thinking that can ultimately help everyone. "Ideas should be allowed to percolate through every discipline anyway," says Justin Billingsley, marketing director at Orange. "This avoids old-fashioned campaigns that are hinged on a lead medium with everything else as support."
Your agency asks to spend a week with your company for a 'deeper insight' into your business. Do you:
a. Agree on the condition that its value materialises in the work.
b. Pacify them with a store visit, a giggle with staff, and some photos as souvenirs.
c. Agree and give them an access-all-areas pass. From boardroom to postroom, the experience will not only be educational, but you'll benefit from having them there.
d. Shudder. A week in your office? These jokers would be lucky to get near a pack of cards.
In principle, there's nothing wrong with the request. "One of the most important aspects of a healthy client-agency relationship is the sense the brand gets that the agency is genuinely interested in, and informed about, their business issues," says the IPA's Pringle. But just how close are you prepared to let them get?
Jon Rudoe, head of retail and marketing at Ocado, says: "How close an agency is to a business can be extremely revealing. If it's not happening, either the marketer is defensive about showing the truth of their organisation to others or it simply lacks basic belief that the agency will actually deliver."
Your agency has had a journalist on the phone telling them you have been seeing other shops. You haven't. Do you:
a. Set your agency straight, but refuse to get involved in any awkward conversations with third parties.
b. Give your agency a bloody good rollicking for not trusting you.
c. Set their minds at ease and then offer to phone the journalist to find out why that rumour might be out there.
d. Use this as a convenient excuse to fire them.
Of course, there is no smoke without fire. But innocent misunderstanding can often become distorted in the rumour mill, and can create flashpoints. In a healthy relationship, there is a near continuous open dialogue. Ideally agencies should not find themselves caught off-guard. Trust is vital. While realistically marketers are likely to be bombarded by calls from agencies prospecting for their business, any serious discussions should be avoided without first informing your incumbent. The AAR's Glazer says: "If a client has been meeting other agencies, and its incumbent learns this from a third party, that lack of respect should be enough for an agency to consider resigning the account immediately."
You have just been invited to the agency summer party. Do you:
a. Accept, knowing you may return moaning about where your money is being blown.
b. See it as a necessary chore.
c. Welcome the opportunity to spend time with the team outside a meeting room.
d. Decline. You wouldn't spend a minute more with them than you're paid to.
This is a basic question of chemistry. Sure, you're not expected to attend every salubrious agency bash. But how do you feel towards the people that you work with? Do they share your values? Do you respect their opinions and view of the world? Most agencies bend over backwards to assemble a team that reflects your brand and you as a client. If the thought of spending one evening outside work with them makes your skin cold, working relations are unlikely to thaw anytime soon.
How did your agency score? Do you stick or do you dump ...
Both parties are thriving and perfectly placed to see through the economic crisis with strategic insight and award-winning work. If not in your honeymoon period, you're somewhere equally as good.
Things are ticking along nicely with a mutual respect and understanding of roles. However, some difficult conversations are being avoided so as not to rock the boat. Confront these now before they become issues.
You appear to be losing interest and heading to a bad place. There is far too much compromise and subservience on both sides. Call an emergency meeting or a review.
An irreparable mess. Call an intermediary and a pitch immediately.
This article was first published on revolutionmagazine.com
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