The virus inside agencies

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.