Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Clients vs. Agencies

Marketers irked by "creative arrogance" of ad agencies- According to this article, the ANA (Association of National Advertisers) has done some research that says about a third of their 330 marketers feel that agencies are "infected by 'creative arrogance,' charge too much and fail to produce work that is on strategy."
I'd like to point out that a good number of the guys in the marketing departments on the client side also lack an understanding of marketing and advertising. Obviously that's not always true, but those who work their way into the marketing department from elsewhere in the company without any kind of marketing background are the most dangerous. People with opinions and no or little knowledge are always the most dangerous.
One-third of those polled said costs are 'too expensive,' and nearly one in four marketing executives said ad agency execution 'takes too long and has too many reworks.' Just over 18% of respondents said fees are too expensive. Slightly more than one-third of agency respondents said they were changing compensation to improve client relations.
If you want a professional you're going to have to pay for their expertise. Otherwise have your sister do it, or your cousin who knows how to use some image editing software. You won't get the same results. You won't get the same quality. And of course these same companies have no problem shoveling out the dough to their lawyers, accountants, and other folks with specialized expertise in helping their company. But when it comes to advertising and marketing in general, too many think that they can do it themselves and have an attitude towards those who went to school for this specific thing. Which I find quite baffling. Too many times we (the Creatives) come up with a concept and watch it get hacked away by the client who thinks they can write. Sure, sometimes they can do an okay job. But a good part of the time, they destroy what was there and then complain that the work isn't effective or isn't as on strategy as it should be. Well, then they shouldn't be tinkering around with copy, layouts and other things that were on strategy to begin with. You don't tell your doctor to tell you what's wrong with you and then dismiss his expertise just because you're paying him money and don't agree with him. "No doctor I don't have cancer. You don't know what you are talking about. Here let me check it myself." No. People don't do that. Because a doctor is a professional and trained to do what they do. And you're not. But clients sometimes seem to think that because they know how to write (and who wasn't taught that in elementary school?) that they too can be great copywriters. And, if there are agencies out there presenting things that aren't on strategy to begin with, then they need to remember what they are supposed to be doing...maybe they need a refresher class at their local ad club.
Interestingly, while about one in five marketers complained that agencies lack leadership integration and best practices, slightly more, about 22%, cited 'creative arrogance' and lack of integration as a problem with agencies. Not surprisingly, just 27% of agency executives resolved to use training to improve listening skills.
Now I wish I knew what they meant by 'creative arrogance.' This could be a few different things and it's not clear in the article which of them it is referring to. One would be Creatives who are presenting things that are cool but not fitting with the brand or on strategy, but try to push it anyway. Another would be Creatives presenting concepts that are on strategy, but if the client doesn't like blue or other colors in the layout s/he kills the idea because of something mundane and totally unrelated to the concept overall. Or, that the Creatives tell the client that X is the best solution for problem Y with solid reasoning but the clients just don't like it or whatever. If it's Creatives who are pushy and fight with the client for the best work to get out into the world, and the client sees that as arrogance then, well, I don't know what to say. Being a Creative means that every time you present a concept you are presenting a little piece of you think, how you interpret the way to solve problem X in an interesting way to the target audience you are trying to reach...and when a piece of work is on strategy, is interesting or entertaining, and a client shoots it down for some poorly reasoned idea, you're going to try to fight for the right thing to do. And if that comes across as arrogance, well, that's on the client for thinking that. A lot of times, clients are afraid to take chances. And sometimes it takes persistence to get them to see that the concept in front of them might be a bit scary at first but that it's also the best action to take.
Too often clients fear going out on a limb. And it's understandable- with a lot of money that could be lost, etc- it can be risky. But no one ever got their business to be successful by being safe. At some point you have to take a risk. Take bank advertising for example. Very rarely do you ever see anyone doing anything that is different. It's always "banky". No matter the brand, no matter their USP, it's "banky". And that is fine, but how often would you be able to tell one bank commercial from another if you took out the bank's name and title card with their logo? Probably not too often. Clients like banks are afraid to do anything too different. But if you're doing what your competition is doing, how do you stand out? Interest rates? Sure that could be it, but, as a brand you get the feeling that one bank is just like those without great rates or whatever have to rely on something more. Something maybe less tangible, like brand. But if your brand is just like the other guys but with different colors, who cares? Not the consumer.
Agencies overwhelmingly identified making agency management more involved in client business as a solution, with nearly 81% citing that resolution. Almost three-fourths of agency executives polled said they would also change their teams and processes to improve relations.
This actually isn't a bad thing. Sometimes there isn't enough "team work" between the client and agency. The client is seen as a monster by the agency folk and vise versa by the client. But that doesn't have to be the case. Getting the channels of communication open early and often is important. And sometimes people forget that. There's also a fine line between kissing client bottoms and making smart decisions about which fights to fight. And even that can be complicated. With some clients, if you give in once, they'll continue to walk all over you, or at least try. Others, by giving in now and again, since it is these guys who in the end pay our salaries, you can do a bit of bartering, as in, the last project we did what you wanted, but we think that this is much more effective, etc and a good amount of time that works.
Surveys like this one by the ANA aren't always great for the ad industry, in that they perpetuate the "client evil/agency evil" thinking. At the same time, it's important to know what is going on with the clients and for the agency to work towards better client/agency relations. Creating great advertising takes team work and you can't get that if the members of your team are secretly talking trash about each other behind each other's backs. There's already enough stress in this industry and we don't need to add more to it by keeping up these battles. But things aren't going to change for the better until there's a respect for the client for knowing their business and a respect for the agencies for being professionals who know that they are doing. Until that happens, I don't know that this animosity will go away.
Although if you want to read some good horror stories and some funny comments clients and bosses have made to ad folks, check out Adland and the AdVent contest.

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