“In simple terms, it is finding an agency that is less worried about ‘what we make’ but moreover ‘what we are helping to create’ from a brand and business perspective.”
As little as 10 years ago, finding your perfect creative agency partner meant finding a team of people culturally obsessed with making the best adverts possible with a show-reel of work that gave you the confidence they would make equally great adverts for you.
Fast-forward to 2018 and finding the right agency partner is still as important, but what you look for in that partner is COMPLETLEY different. Most clients are no longer looking for a creative partner that is just obsessed with making the best adverts. Your business has become too competitive, too multi-dimensional and fragmented and your consumers are now a very different kind of beast.
That’s why I believe the best agency and client relationships today are born out of a meeting of minds over what it takes to win in business and how creativity can help create that result. In simple terms it is finding an agency that is less worried about ‘what we make’ but moreover ‘what we are helping to create’ from a brand and business perspective.
With that in mind, here are 5 things that we would be asking to discover if you are in a forward facing, modern agency relationship OR you are in a dying relationship that is haunted by a show-reel of past advertising glories:
Do we REALLY speak the same language anymore?
So many agencies still talk about the ‘big idea’ in terms of a one-off executional advertising idea, when today, it’s more important to give brands an idea ‘platform’ that can work across ever channel and touch-point. The best platforms of course, still allow you to create individually brilliant executions when the time is right but most traditional creative agencies still obsess entirely over one-off channel execution.
Test whether you really speak the same language by asking your Creative Director what the best 3 ‘ideas’ are in the market at the moment and why? You may well discover that you’re wasting your time, money and patience talking at cross-purposes.
Are they really interested in my businesses success or are they pushing their own agenda?
Is your agency constantly looking for the best response to your brief regardless of the channel? Or are they constantly putting TV scripts in front of your nose in the hope that they might get something away? A lot of advertising agencies grew up on the 30 second TV script and to a lot of them, this is still what advertising is, anything else other than TV just simply isn’t the answer. Some agencies will put forward responses that have their own awards and accolades in mind as opposed to the correct motivation of solving your business challenge in the most effective way.
Analyse your agencies responses to your briefs. Is there an overwhelming amount of misfit responses to your challenge? Are they creating TV scripts in response to your social and content briefs? If so, it may be that the agency doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
Are the best conversations happening when you’re not making work?
Being a creative agency today is not just about serving up great work and sending the invoice while they sit back and let the sales flood in. Business is 24/7 and the best agencies now are creating ideas and productive conversations outside of the core briefs. To ‘bastardise’ a John Lennon lyric “Life happens when you’re busy making plans” the same is true in marketing. Real business growth and competitive advantage is developed when everyone else is concentrating on getting the campaigns out of the door.
The test of a good relationship is how good the conversations are between you and your agency when you’re not just making work. How many pro-active ideas has your agency brought to you in the last year that could further your business goal?
Does the relationship feel at its best when things are going wrong?
How do both parties react in the face of adversity? It’s true to say that any relationship fairs well when everything’s running smoothly. However, the best relationships are at their strongest when things go wrong or there is an issue that needs sorting. John Lewis has built an entire brand ethos on the back of this.
How has your agency acted when things haven’t necessarily gone to plan? If they are all over a fix then that’s the sign of a solid relationship. In contrast, if it always feels as though as the client, it’s your problem, you are probably hanging around with the wrong people.
Does my agency treat new business development growth like we treat business growth?
How does your agency look to grow their own business? Those agencies that are successful in generating new business have a constant proactive hustle mentality. The advertising agency landscape in general is a bit behind the curve when it comes to understanding how even the most traditional of brands have to proactively innovate now to grow market share. If your agency can’t tell you how they generate business proactively for themselves, they won’t be thinking about your business proactively either.
Find out if your agency treat business growth like an independent start-up or do they sit and wait for the business opportunities to come to them? If you need to hustle business growth as a brand then you need an agency that has to do the same.
…GET CLOSER OR GET CLOSURE
Of course the above list is not an exhaustive list of what makes client and agency relationships great. Any good intermediary will help clients find very good agency partner options using a whole series of very sensible criteria. But when it comes down to the nitty gritty of building a brilliant, close and successful relationship these questions are the ones we ask ourselves to make sure we see eye to eye with our clients.
Our Never Quiet philosophy is the filter we use to help us find the right clients for us and help define the right guiderails for our relationship. Of course it’s not right for everyone but that’s the whole point of laying out what cultural values you believe in right from the start. For some, our list will help you perhaps build a stronger and closer relationship with your agency. For others perhaps it’s the re-enforcement you need to get closure and start to look elsewhere.
About the author:
Formerly Chief Operating Officer of DDB, Havas and Tribal, he’s delivered award-winning campaigns for many clients, including Carling, Volkswagen, Virgin Media and Phillips. Jon is now CEO at independent creative agency, Atomic.