There is something about the way the construction industry buys marketing services and the way some ‘full service’ or traditional agencies sell their services that has an ever-decreasing-circles feel about it.
Einstein is often credited to have said that the definition of insanity is; Doing the same thing and expecting different results.
We were recently involved in an agency selection process where, during the initial intro meeting, the prospective client spent much of the time explaining how badly the incumbent was performing.
Alarm bells rang – this behavior is often indicative of how any new relationship is likely to go – but I’m not in the habit of getting up and walking out so we continued the conversation.
We asked various questions about how and why the service had gone awry and what the prospects expectations were and what they are now. People, quality and cost were the common issues.
Further investigation revealed that the prospect didn’t have a clear annual marketing budget to work with nor did they have any clear marketing goals or methods for measurement or reporting.
There was clearly nothing for the incumbent agency to get excited about, no way of knowing whether their work was making any difference. There was, in my mind, little wonder the relationship had gone stale.
I understood perfectly well why the relationship had broken down. But more importantly I understood how any relationship going forward was likely to go the same way.
Now I realise this is an extreme case, and that the agency/client relationship is a complicated one and not one that I can hope to provide all the answers to.
The one thing I do know is that for a fruitful relationship there must be a good fit. A good fit between the clients’ business needs and the expectations of what the agency can deliver.
To my mind an agency, large or small, is only as good as the information, feedback and objectives they get from client they are working for.
And likewise, a client is only as happy as the expectations placed upon them by the agency – if you can’t deliver the earth don’t try and sell it!
So all I would ask is for some honesty in the approach from both sides.
If you’re a production based agency ie. an agency with more doers than thinkers then be clear in the parameters of your service from the outset.
And similarly, if you’re requirement is for an agency to follow instruction don’t be frustrated when that agency isn’t too great on providing mind-blowing recommendations for strategic direction.
The way to buy marketing services is changing. The one-agency-fits-all approach is suffocating slowly on the boardroom floor.
A ‘full service’ marketing agency is a bold statement in this day and age. And as client marketers become ever more savvy, it’s not a claim that is likely to instill a great deal of confidence – unless of course you are indeed shit hot in all areas.
Just as main contractors buy in specialist contractors with specific specialisms to fulfill specific roles, so product manufacturers ought to be looking into their marketing supply chain across the whole marketing spectrum.
Your graphic designer is not realistically going to be a convincing SEO specialist, and your web developer is unlikely to be a well-versed PR – and there aren’t many exceptions.
So, in view of this rant here are my top 4 tips for getting the right fit between specialist agencies and clients
1.Understand what it is that you need, not what you want.
Before you bring in the agencies, work out what it is you are trying to achieve.
2.Have realistic expectations.
If you don’t know exactly what you want (ie the reason for marketing) but know what you need (ie. business goal) then you’re in a good place. Try benchmarking where you are now in relation to the goal – this will give you a realistic idea of where you could get to with your budget.
3.Have conversations – not interviews.
Try not to waste time slagging off other suppliers whatever the reasons for your disappointment. Focus on the business need going forward and how you would like the relationship to be.
4.Be honest at each stage and as early as possible.
If you don’t understand the service ask better questions, please don’t fall into the trap of buying the same service in a different pair of jeans.