Most annoying business
|Kieran Killeen examines some home truths about client-agency relationships|
What happens if you leave the lid off the toothpaste in your corporate world? To find out, Gordon Steele, ex-head of marketing at Royal Mail, addressed over 50 agencies at the bi-annual meeting of the Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide (MAA). Steele explored some truths behind client-agency relationships.
Given that many of us spend as much time with our respective clients and agencies as we do with a spouse, the need for a harmonious marriage is obvious. But how cordial are these relationships and what are the niggly things that get under people's skin?
TEN DEADLIEST SINS FROM A CLIENT'S PERSPECTIVE
- Missing deadlines
- Patronising juniors
- Waiting in reception
- Missing the brief
- Awful pitches
- Off the shelf solutions
- Agency infighting
- Not understanding the business
- Meeting attendance
- Quality control
Missing deadlines: If a promotion has been committed to the trade and anything disrupts the promised delivery date, then the results can be serious for a client. Agencies normally depend on third party suppliers to deliver on schedule and on occasion the suppliers are new to the agency and may be based overseas.
Do you really believe that your €20,000 order for a piece of merchandise is a significant order to your supplier? Even if you do, ensure you have a contract in place. The deadline is the deadline and if more time is needed, say so from the start.
Patronising juniors: Senior client members will not look positively at a junior being patronised in the same way that you would not like a junior staff member of the agency to be patronised by a client or supplier.
Waiting in reception: Greet the client and politely show him or her to a meeting room.
Missing the brief is a waste of time for everyone. If a client has prepared a brief, listen, ask the right questions and ensure you have interpreted the brief before your start on your response. If unsure, then ask. It's okay to challenge the brief, but not to miss it.
Awful pitches: We have all had these. You know you are not firing on all cylinders, the harmony is wrong in the pitch and the body language is poor. Probably better to head to the pub half way through and put everyone out of their misery.
Off the shelf solutions are boring for everybody. Hands up those agency personnel who hear the same solutions being thrown around at every creative brainstorming session. Insights will tell you that the first 25 ideas you think of are the boring, re-hashed rubbish and if you can stick the pain, then the juicy stuff will start to flow.
Interesting though how at the back of your mind, at every creative pitch, is the "obvious solution" that you just know another agency is going to present, so you feel a need to present it along with your other thoughts, just to be sure.
Agency infighting: When two members of the agency team have a disagreement with each other in front of the client and the disagreement escalates.
Not understanding the clients business is a pretty destructive place to start. With so much information online, it is hard not to carry out research. Use the tools available and ask the right questions at the briefing to ensure you understand the client's business.
Poor punctuality does not give clients huge confidence. If you cannot deliver yourself on time, what hope have you of delivering a project on time?
Quality control: Always critical and something worthy of debate. If artwork is sent to a client and it is approved and after printing it is found to contain an error - where does the responsibility lie? The client is employing the agency as a partner with expertise and the responsibility for ensuring the quality is right rests with the agency.
So, if these are the things that clients dislike about Agencies (and purely in the interest of balance), just what are the things that Agencies "marginally dislike" about Clients?
WHAT AGENCIES DISLIKE ABOUT AGENCIES
- Pitching for a €50,000 budget
- Repeat pitching
- Being treated as a slave
- Wasted work
- Unnecessary deadlines
- Approval by committee
- Scope creep
- Dilution of the idea
- Deliver regardless
- No evaluation
Pitching for a €50,000 budget has always been a frustration for agencies. Most promotion pitches cost approximately €10,000 in creative and executive time. If four agencies are pitching for a €50,000 budget and the agencies have a margin of 20 per cent, then even the winning agency cannot make any money out of winning the pitch. By the time they start working on the brief proper, they are down €10,000. It will then cost at least €10,000 in creative and executive time to execute the project. Any €50,000 presentation with more than two agencies pitching, is not worth the effort.
Repeat pitching is unusual in most cases. It is where clients brief each project to agencies in the belief they are being fair to all, while also recognising they are getting fresh thinking all the time. It is nonsense. The understanding and ideas that come out of a long-term relationship allow for more effective use of everyone's time.
Being treated as a slave: Steele's way of saying that sometimes agencies take on more than a project when they work with a client. It is okay if the right fee agreement is in place, otherwise it is harmful as it creates bitterness in an agency towards the client.
Wasted work is a big frustration. A brief is issued and worked on by the agency and either at or after the presentation the client advises that they have decided not to implement any activity due to policy, politics or budgets. Who pays?
Unnecessary deadlines can seriously affect the delivery of great solutions. Ensure that the date you require materials by offers your agency enough time to get the conceptual and strategic thinking right. How often does it take six weeks to write the brief and how often is a response to the brief expected within ten days?
Approval by committee: You can tour all of the parks in the world and you will never find a statue dedicated to a committee. Consensus is important but precision in decision making promotes creativity rather than overt conservatism.
Scope creep is where the brief is for one thing and it turns out to be something much bigger. Rarely is this done on purpose but often after the budget and fees have been agreed and there is rarely any further "scope" to allow for "budget creep".
Dilution of the idea can seriously impact on the effectiveness of your promotion. It is when the big idea gets knocked back and by the time it reaches the point of implementation you might be better off starting the process all over again.
Deliver regardless is not unlike scope creep except this is critical path creep. Sure, the date for sell-out is six weeks away, but if the programme is not signed off for four weeks, is it realistic for the programme to be in-trade in two?
No evaluation: It may come as a surprise to clients but agencies love programme evaluation. If they are not evaluated, how can their effectiveness be measured? We are all talking about it, but who is really doing it well?
Kieran Killeen is managing director of Marketing Network and secretary of the Marketing Agencies Association (MAA)