For the past two weeks, we’ve been imagining a couple of email exchanges between client-side marketers and agency–side creatives. Neither ended well, and I can think of 16 reasons why this is a familiar scenario to so many of us. Here are the first eight of them.
Stupid Reason #1 – Most creative briefs suck.
When was the last time you wrote or received a really, really great brief? One that answered all your questions, gave clear direction, provided measurable goals and generally made your project move a lot faster. If briefs are going to be the way we document our client and agency engagements, we need to get a lot better at them.
Stupid Reason #2 – Most meetings suck.
Terry and Alex have had some fairly terrible meetings lately, some of which ended in flying fruit and battered fig trees. Most client-agency meetings are horrible. They have horrible agendas, if any at all; very little planning goes into them; there are no goals; people believe they can wing it rather than preparing and we continue to pretend they don’t cost a ton of money.
Stupid Reason #3 – Everyone’s daddy is different.
Show me a misalignment between supplier and customer or between two corporate departments and I’ll show you some Daddy Issues. Terry’s daddy is revenue, units sold and getting a promotion (or at least not getting fired). Alex’s daddy is studio time, margin and winning creative awards. Agencies need to understand and respect the hierarchy and politics on the client side and clients need to understand that agencies are businesses too, and must manage where their creative resources are allocated.
Stupid Reason #4 – Clients do a terrible job of explaining their products.
Even on the B2C side, brand marketers often assume their agencies get it. Sure, dish soap and duvet covers are not terribly complex things, but in a competitive market, value propositions and differentiation hang from very fine filaments indeed. When it comes to B2B, half of the marketers I know can barely understand what their products do, let alone why anyone would care. But firing over hundreds of pages of user documentation, technical specs and knowledge base stuff isn’t going to help the agency figure it out on their own. You need to schedule time to walk them through all the nooks and crannies, value props, pricing models and so forth. Marketers, this requires effort on your part. I’m sorry. That’s just the way it is.
Stupid Reason #5 – Agencies don’t try hard enough to figure things out on their own.
Poor Terry just can’t seem to get the agency to understand the difference between embalming and encryption. Other than three letters, the two have nothing in common, which the agency could understand with just a bit of a trip to Google. Clients will never anticipate all of the questions you’re going to have, which is why agencies need to do a bit of research on their own and do some serious preparation for the meeting. See number 2.
Stupid Reason #6 – Clients like choices.
Heck, everyone likes choices. Even when there really is no choice, humans seem to do well when they feel like they have some control. If you have ever negotiated bath time with a toddler, you know the best outcome is not to debate whether or not the bath will happen, but to offer a couple of choices about when or with what sort of bubbles. The same is true for strategies and creative. Alex played that age-old agency game of offering the same creative over and over until there simply wasn’t time to change it. This painted Terry into a corner because in Terry’s world, executives want to feel like they have control (see toddlers), which to them looks like choice.
Stupid Reason #7 – Choices are costly for agencies.
If choice is important, why don’t agencies bring in more than three concepts at a time? Because one of their daddies is cost. Studio time is expensive and, as Alex demonstrated in both exchanges, the cost of studio time isn’t found just in the effort for a given client, but also in the opportunity cost of that time not being used well or not being used at all. Terry’s ongoing delays with the briefing documents, screen shots and decisions were driving Alex and the agency Corporate Overlords around the bend. The key, of course, is to sort this stuff out at the very beginning in the statement of work. Agencies should be specifying how many hours of studio time the client is getting for the money, and then reporting on how much has been used and what remains. Kind of like wireless data or daycare, hefty overage charges should apply.
Stupid Reason #8 – Clients let their people waste agency time.
Marketing departments are much smaller than they used to be. Most of us have outsourced all of our writing, design, brand work and even our strategic planning. The result is that agencies often have multiple points of contact within a given client, each shovelling work at them, but none of whom are actually talking to one another. Basically, we’ve outsourced common sense. In the first exchange, the ridiculous Super Bowl request should never have made it past the Terry’s marketing team, and they should certainly not have pushed the agency under the bus when the big cheese objected to the cost.
Next week we’ll look at the other eight stupid reasons marketers and creatives keep messing each other up.