Between my work as an independent consultant, as well as running BookofWin, I’ve had the opportunity to talk and work with dozens of agencies. What I’ve found, unfortunately, is that most agencies, if not all, care more about business development than execution.
Any client who has worked with a marketing or advertising agency shouldn’t be surprised. After all, 78% of agency reviews occur because of business performance issues. Anyone who has worked for an agency shouldn’t be surprised either. Typical agency management focuses their energy and praise on those that bring in business and only deal with day-to-day execution when something goes wrong.
All too often, once an account is won, it is handed off to an account manager that is incentivized to use the minimum amount of company resources to execute the campaign. The goal is to reduce spend and maximize profits while still keeping the client happy. This eventually leads to subpar work and frustrated clients.
You can’t blame the agencies here. Clients can act like children and are drawn to the shiny object that someone else has. This requires every agency to put all their efforts into making their sales pitch shinier and more attractive than it’s competitors. Agency sales are still mostly in the Mad Men stage of evolution whereby perception and flash trumps experience and substance. Agencies are just doing what they know they need to do to grow their business. Poor performance is forgotten and flashy pitches win bigger clients. In other words, as a client, the best work you’ll see from your agency is typically in the pitch itself.
All hope is not lost though. There are a few things that everyone can do to get us to a world with improved work and happier clients:
- Focus on client retention more than business development. It’s cheaper from a business perspective to keep a current customer than acquire a new one.
- Incentivize account managers to use every penny they can for their clients. Not one cent extra should be saved for additional profit on top of the expected built-in margin.
- Create a role that focuses on quality of service across the agency as well as client retention. Understand why clients left and make sure any issues are fixed.
- Don’t just RFP popular agencies or agencies that you know. Do a detailed search to find an agency with the right experience for your needs.
- Focus on an agency’s client retention rate as much as you focus on the pitch they give you.
- The agency is important but the people on the account is what will make or break the campaign. Ask for detailed dossiers on each person who will be involved in the account.
- Bring in an outsider who has worked on the agency side and can spot the BS in most pitches. I’ve been doing this for some of my clients and you’d be amazed at the things that I see as complete fluff that the client eats up as gospel. Clients need a ringer on their end to help them make the right decision.
I’m hoping to see the whole industry evolve to a point where the flashy pitch will be the least important part of the client decision process.