Apr 25, 2008

It Takes Two (Or Why Changing Your Agency's Paradigm Also Means Changing Your Clients')

Many people, myself included, have been blogging about how agencies need to step up their game and expand what they do beyond the usual TV spot-print ad-banner-microsite paradigm.

But after reading this very thoughtful post from Paul Isakson, it hit me that we can’t really do any of this until our clients decide that they’re going to pay us for it.

I mean it’s all well and good to say that we need to look at user experience as a whole and that 20 minutes on an endless phone loop can undo $20 million worth of advertising and how clients need to incorporate design into every consumer touch point and all that. But if clients don’t want to hear that from us, and more importantly, don’t want to pay us for it, then we’re just howling at the moon.

I mean we can reinvent agencies all we want. Do away with traditional art director/copywriter creative departments as per Joe Jaffe’s recent suggestion. We just need to find someone who’s going to hire the resulting entity.

Because most clients aren’t set up that way. Bigger ones, anyway. They’re all about “hiring ‘best in class’ partners in every discipline.” Which may have worked 25 years ago, but now basically results in a bunch of overlapping vendors all stepping on each other’s toes and doing what they can to defend their own little piece of turf. So we can suggest changes in store design to our clients. But if they already have a store design agency, they’re not going to care what we think. Or want to pay us for it. (And if the idea does start to get traction, the store design agency sure isn’t going to be too happy about it and will do what it can to sabotage it.)

So how do we accomplish this thing that desperately needs to be accomplished? In bits and pieces, I’m afraid. We need to find those companies who don’t have what I called “The Armies Of ‘No’” in place, companies who are willing to make marketing a priority and move beyond the outdated structures. We need to keep showing our clients ideas beyond our usual scope, knowing that they will likely be met with rejection (at best) or scorn (at worst) because we need to show them that their agency—whether it’s a digital shop or a traditional one—can give them the thinking they need. And we need to stop acting like vendors and start acting like partners. Because ultimately, that’s going to lead to greater profits.

It’s not an easy path, but at the risk of sounding like a “Successories” poster, nothing that’s worth it ever is.

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