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The Growing Divide Between Agencies and Clients

Posted by: Mark Nead

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We need to get real. There’s a growing gap between the work agencies are doing and the work that clients actually need. We as agencies seem to spend more time fulfilling wishes like genies than we do listening to clients and then presenting them with solutions, perhaps even pushing back if what they think they need doesn’t actually match their goal or how to get there.

Many agencies aren’t even qualified to do the work they are selling, but in order to compete with everyone else, they sell it anyway and figure it out as they go. They are afraid they will lose the client to a “full service” agency if they choose to specialize in one or two fields. That fear drives them and suddenly you have a team of people who specialize in social media marketing doing research, positioning your brand in print and digital and writing website content.

Can they do it, sure, but is it what it should or could be if you had the right specialists doing the job? Not likely.

All this fear and skill set manipulation creates an environment of distrust. Don’t mistake what we’re saying, 95% of the time there is not malicious intent. It’s the agencies trying to be all things to their clients and losing sight of what their core focus should be, instead trying to satisfy the client’s desire to work with the people they already know. All of this makes it harder to work together.

In fact, a recent Forbes survey cited that 48% of marketing executives say evolving brand and agency roles are making successful collaboration more difficult. Add to that the fact that just 38% are satisfied of the way agencies manage integration and it begins to form a picture of a very broken system.

All this uncertainty and stretching of the truth leads to some serious trust issues. How can the client trust that agency is going to do what’s best for them, not just what lines their pockets the fastest.

So now here we sit, the pain point for the client is still there. They still have the need for services, but they don’t feel like they can trust the agency to have their best interests in mind and do the work that’s needed.

Then, suddenly Todd from accounting has a brilliant idea! Why not hire someone one to do this work in-house. And just like that, the divide that’s been growing between agency and client becomes a chasm.

So what can we do?

If we’re going to bridge the divide between agencies and clients we need to DTR as the kids say. Define the relationship. We need to have a frank discussion about what is required from both sides to succeed.

Clients need to spend the time to understand what their agencies do well and what they don’t do well. If they are in need of a service their agency doesn’t provide, they should talk to their agency about it to see if the agency can offer recommendations.

Agencies need to stop being afraid. Knock it off already! Learn to say no…well actually say no, but. Embrace what you do, do it well, and form relationships with your so-called competition (aka the other agencies and people that do the things you don’t that you’ve been fighting against forever) and be prepared to leverage partnerships and resources when asked for skill sets outside of your agency’s focus.

Forming a network of trusted partners will get you so much further than writing checks your butt can’t cash. For the good of the client, for the goals they want to achieve, we have to operate not out of fear, but out of intent. We want them to succeed and we have to be willing to collaborate in order to be effective and do right by them.

We all need to spend more time listening. What is your client trying to tell you? What is your agency really saying? Be willing to hear some things you may not like and question their validity. Holding up a mirror can be a tough thing to do, but it can often be necessary to succeed and move forward in a positive direction.

Then, talk. Allow the subject matter experts to communicate directly with the clients, don’t put gatekeepers in their way. Let them foster relationships so that they can effectively communicate with the client and the client with them. Create relationships that are mutually beneficial.

We have to change the way we all work and communicate together. The time is now while the divide is still surmountable. It’s growing, bit by bit and we need to take action.