How to Drive Your Agency Crazy

BackwardsBy Guy Mastrion

Recently, here in the office of provocation and stimulation, I questioned the aesthetics of a particular proposed campaign that we were sending to a client. My challenge had little to do with my own preference. I loved the look of the work but it seemed misaligned with the business objective; and my reaction was in response to the one tactic being discussed at that moment. The team was remained united in their desire to stick with their program and adamant that they got it right.

The proposed brand design program and the supporting campaign succeeded beautifully in the context of this single tactic. However, as we dug deeper into the myriad objectives that the campaign was required to meet to support the brand, it became apparent that the platform idea proposed by the team was a dead end for the brand.

How could the team have gotten it so wrong? They are senior folks with many great campaigns to their credit and, in addition, the proposed direction was perfectly attuned to the clients desires.

The missing element was consideration of the broader requirement for the brand, something the client even lost track of in the urgency to meet a looming deadline.

The trouble stems not from a lack of skill or experience on the part of any of the stakeholders but rather from a sort of near-term tunnel vision or blindness.

This is a problem for brands that drive with tactics not positioning: its the equivalent of shoot first and ask questions later, and it’s a big problem in the pharmaceutical world. Brands trade off long-term growth for short-term gain, and it’s a slippery slope from which many brands never recover.

A larger brand plan is replaced by a tactical rat race and agency teams are reduced to firing squads that must implement or face client ridicule and implied threats of dismissal for failure to meet a deadline. And it all starts with a phone call asking the agency to attend a brand strategic planning meeting so far so good. However, once at the meeting, it becomes apparent that all that is desired is a budget, which must be defined by tactics, and all of it must be approved before any “thinking” can begin. And you can only think about the brand in the context of a project, so no job number and no work unless of course you’re willing to work for free. We very often write-off large blocks of agency time in an effort to overcome this backwardness. But why should agencies be forced to work for free in order to do the kind of truly effective work the brand needs? In the new economy, with all the fat trimmed off, agencies can no longer afford to play this game. And truth be told, the weakness of current brand planning is going to become increasingly apparent.

In many cases by the time the team gets any real traction around a larger brand idea, they’ve already conflicted with various tactical deadlines¢‚Ǩ¬¶and then the blindness sets in. The client brand manager, fresh in from the sales force is ill equipped to challenge this standard op and the pressure from his/her superiors to get stuff done.

My kids have a day at school, they call backwards day, when everything said and done is the opposite or backwards of what is normal.

My kids have it lucky, backwards day for them is only once a year.

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One Response to How to Drive Your Agency Crazy

  1. Peter Comber says:

    That’s a very good description of a bad situation.
    I believe that the root of all evil is that, unless you enjoy working for a loss, the pay by the hour system is only effective for on-demand services; “Tell me what you want and I’ll do it for you.”
    Same problem with another procurement favourite, the project-by-project relationship.
    If agencies are expected to provide strategic and proactive support that builds, nutures and protects a brand over time then the contract between the parties must be different.
    And please don’t get me started on the madness of selling talent and intellectual value as a time commodity…