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I’m feeling sorry for clients, not agencies

I’ve stopped blaming things on clients. It’s really not their fault that bad advertising fills almost every corner the world.

I genuinely believe that they are simply the victims of agencies creating ridiculous myths about advertising and only offering a few rather spurious models to choose from. Everyone is just too scared to rip it up and start again.

One of the greatest things to happen as a result of all this volatility we are experiencing, is that agencies are going to be forced to come up with radically different business models.

But until they come to fruition, clients can only really choose from the following;

 One: The National Trust of Artvertisers

This model is the oldest and the one with the most problematic legacy. Essentially it’s a clique. A bunch of artsy bureaucrats that run the agency and post rationalise a client’s problem, solely based on an execution’s artistic merit and potential to win awards.

Much like The Turner Prize, every single person in the room is looking at the ‘art’ thinking it’s utter bullshit, they are all just afraid to speak up for fear of ridicule from the Ideas Trust. Little do they know, everyone else is thinking the exact same thing.

Should the Ideas Trust be challenged internally, very matter of factly they revert to the line: ‘clients buy the work that wins the awards’.

This retort isn’t that different to game show host, Bruce Forsyth’s famous quip: “What do points make? Prizes’. It’s catchy but don’t live by it.

Seriously it kills me when a young art director or copywriter just aims for an award winning execution rather than an inventive solution that answers the brief. Since when was narcissism better than imagination?

Similar to The Impressionists of the 18th Century, who valiantly tried and failed to get into the old and stuffy Paris Salon exhibition, young art directors and copy writers quite literally compete for the chance to get their work hung on the ECD’s walls.

It’s the same, just a few hundred years later and much like The Impressionists, they will eventually go off and do their own more meaningful work.

It’s easy to identify this kind of agency, as the presentations are formulaic – a few TV scripts ranging from 15 to 90 seconds long. Some web films and a Facebook app to prove how prepared they are for the digital age.

This model is great for clients that value the following;

  1. Trips to Cannes to pick up awards
  2. It’s easy and requires little to no thinking about anything important
  3. You can leave at 5 on the dot and sleep easily at night in blissful ignorance of the real problem you face

Two: The society of advertising practitioners

Of course if you believe every single agency you ever meet, the future of marketing is overwhelmingly about 1000 other kinds of advertising. These agencies like to think of themselves as the surgeons of the communications world.

Does your brand have a problem with content? Yep you need a content agency. Not on top of Snapchat, idiot. Welcome to Snapchat, Twitface and Partners.

There are real surgeons in and amongst all the guff that you do need but unfortunately 80% of them just aren’t that qualified, they simply plug a hole in the ignorance of a poorly trained GP.

You can recognise this model as it takes forever to arrive at a diagnosis. You get passed from specialist to specialist, each advocating their more advanced solution at the expense of the previous specialist you have just seen.

The result is a list of confusing but easily actionable tactics. They won’t solve the main problem but at least you feel like you’re doing something about it. After all who got sacked for hiring qualified specialists.

There is a huge downside to this model that you need to be aware of. If you’re in a really tough spot, things can go horribly as this poor journalist found out.

“What did I learn? Physicians do get things wrong, remarkably often. Studies have shown that up to one in five patients are misdiagnosed. In the United States and Canada it is estimated that 50,000 hospital deaths each year could have been prevented if the real cause of illness had been correctly identified”.

I know, it’s silly comparing advertising agencies to physicians that are well trained. I imagine the rate of misdiagnosis must therefore be much higher.

This model is great for clients that value the following;

  1. Procrastinating means you never really have to make a bold decision. By simply focusing on the myriad of short term tactics you can ignore the major issues
  2. You have the best roster of agencies in town, so you can blame them when it goes wrong
  3. You can times your social life and awards potential by the number of agencies on your roster

Three: The one stop shop

I know, I didn’t need to make up a name for this model, it actually exists.

Yes it is strange. Many agencies proudly describe themselves as one stop shops. Similar to a massive supermarket on the outskirts of a buzzing and vibrant community of actual people, this model is all about driving efficiencies and just making life easier for clients.

You don’t really pay for the quality, you pay for the low price, convenience and a lot of people in your meetings. It’s typical supermarket tactics – get punters in with a low price, then hit them with 2 for 1 deals so you end up buying more stuff you don’t need that just sits in the cupboard.

Quite often you will sit in meetings with the general manager, the manager, the assistant manager, the assistant to the manager, the supervisor and the checkout guys but all they do is relieve you of your cash for substandard products.

Every time you leave, you promise yourself you will never go back but it’s all just too easy.

These one stop shops are however getting smarter. They are really part of a network that can import goods from all over the world to the detriment of the local producer. They are great with data and loyalty schemes to the point they are developing automated systems, just like the financial industry. It must be great hey, that all worked out brilliantly.

In fact marketing teams will soon be able to come into work once a month and just choose between one of three buttons that unleash a chain of events via a bunch of systems and administrators ultimately designed to rip you off.

This model is great for clients that value the following;

  1. You have a really complex business so it’s just easier to ignore it and go with one network
  2. You are drowning in so much cash you don’t really need to look at the finer details of the receipt
  3. Your marketing department really answers to procurement not customers

Ok. If you have got here you have read over 1100 words and that means you care, a bit. It would therefore be rude of me not to leave you with at least one alternative solution, so here goes.

The new guilds of marketing

Much like in medieval times an agency is made up of guilds. Guilds are defined as: ‘An association of persons of the same trade or pursuits, formed to protect mutual interests and maintain standards’.

Agencies employ (or have a little black book) of master craftsmen and women (across the 4 Ps) that all work towards a common goal (marketing).

Going to war? Engage the blacksmiths. Times of famine, focus on agriculture. Perhaps when there is a celebration, blanket yourself in gold from the finest goldsmith.

This model needs diversity, partners and genuine craftspeople that want to work together.

So by getting rid of every single resemblance of agency departments, mediocrity and baggage associated with deeds and titles, here is what I would do, if of course someone was stupid enough to give me a bundle of cash to start an agency tomorrow.

Client Service becomes marketing and intimately represents a client’s category

This department is responsible for having an in depth knowledge and experience of a category but have the freedom to push the boundaries. They really know the client’s business inside and out and have a team of project managers on hand to get shit happening and keep things on budget.

These people need to be radical though, with genuine imagination about what a business could achieve. This guild should not be organised by a bunch of advertising services, it’s about the growth of a client’s brand and not the selling of services and head hours.

This group is also responsible for the marketing and business development of the agency. In fact there is a dedicated team focused just on marketing the agency and running pitches.

Replace creative and planning departments with flexible concept teams

It’s critical agencies get better at thinking and making at the same time from a cost, but also a time and quality of output point of view.

Clients need conceptual people with varied backgrounds to solve varied problems, so the idea of art directors, copywriters and account planners solving every business problem is lunacy.

Working with the agency’s newly created marketing team the concept lead mobilises a project group after assessing the scope. These are the gun thinkers, makers and doers. It may include a copy writer, art director or an account planner but it could also include media planers, product designers, technologists, researchers, designers, shopper marketers, economists, project managers and even the client to name a few.

There is no discrimination as to where these people come from, they just need to be massively conceptual people that also bring the required skills to the problem at hand.

They focus 100% on the job without the distraction of a multitude of other jobs or clients. Yes it’s might be more expensive but it’s a premium product worth paying for that will actually deliver better results quicker. Outside of a core concept team, the people are more transient making it possible to hire the best when needed and not keep any deadwood.

This model is great for clients that value the following;

  1. Real marketing
  2. Giving a shit
  3. Being inventive

I’m sure there are many more models but it’s a start.

Standard

2 thoughts on “I’m feeling sorry for clients, not agencies

    • carlmoggy says:

      Hey Matt,

      Clients do buy this model already, just not from ad agencies. Whilst not exactly the same, it’s more aligned with how a design company like IDEO would operate.

      To be honest I see most of the money being made through a premium, well scoped concept fee but in terms of renumeration it depends how we define client growth. I’d love to see more agencies moving to a performance based model for a start (not just sales), but what if we reduced a marketing budget by x% and still got a better result. Perhaps there is money to be made in cost savings as well?

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