Clients do not buy raw materials or machine parts from Agencies. They buy advice. They are looking for a partner that will provide them counsel and expertise and help to do a very difficult job-persuade fickle consumers to prefer one Brand over, in most cases, equally good alternatives.
By its very nature, advice cannot be checked against approved specs. Every brand and every case is different, so the advice given by an Agency is breaking new ground on every project. Almost every Agency recommendation requires that the Client take a leap of faith and this will only happen if the Agency has credibility.
Unfortunately, Agencies currently suffer from low credibility and they are making the problem worse by continually and, unknowingly, making these four mistakes.
They are, in no particular order-
Talking about Creativity instead of Results. When Agencies talk about creativity and creative recognition they are talking to themselves. Clients do not hire them do deliver creativity. They are looking for results, however those results are measured. If the results do not come, the Agency will be changed. This has always been so and Agencies have never fully come to grips with it-mostly to their detriment. Clients are happy to celebrate creativity, but if and only if, sales targets have been reached.
Always recommending the risky option vs the sure thing. Agencies have a natural tendency to want to do things more creatively and they often look down on the simple, proven solution. They sneer that it is “what the Client wants”. They completely miss the point. The only thing the Client wants is results. He wants to hit his targets with as little risk as possible. He wants the sure thing. This is normal. Every time the Agency recommends the more risky approach just because it is “more creative” it is showing that it does not understand the ABC’s of business and therefore cannot be trusted as a reliable adviser.
Always talking long term equity vs short term results. Agencies have somehow managed to convince Clients that this is a zero sum game. You can have one or the other but not both. And then, to make matters worse, they invariably lecture Clients that they must be willing to sacrifice short term sales to build the brand in the long term. They actually position themselves against sales. This is wrong on many levels. The reality of business tells you that there is no long term without short-term results. Additionally, most Clients have a short window before they move on to the next assignment, hopefully a promotion. The only way to make the jump is through immediate results. Finally, until consumers start separating communication into “long term equity building” and “short term sales boosting”, I would argue that to them it is all just advertising. And, as Leo Burnett said, great advertising must produce sales in the short term and build equity long term.
Preaching, but not practicing, investment in difficult times. Agencies have always told Clients that investing in difficult moments when others are cutting back will lead to increases in market share. And, even putting aside the self-serving nature of the argument, it may be true. However, now that Agencies are under pressure from Wall Street and have to deliver quarterly results just as their Clients do, the recommendation will ring hollow if they are not practicing what they preach. And they seldom do. And Clients know this. “Do what I say but not what I do” is a very poor way to build credibility.
Agencies would do well to stay away from these mistakes when dealing with Clients. The more a Client perceives that the Agency’s interests are aligned with his own, the easier it will be to take advice from them.
And then, the Agency will knowingly be building its credibility.