Secret Marketer: Clients can be difficult, so it’s important agencies help them improve their skills

It’s important for agencies to work together, sharing knowledge and pooling ideas but too often they hold something back for fearing of losing the competitive advantage.

I was recently interviewed for a marketing magazine (not this one) about my main beefs with agencies. This was an interesting exercise, as my relationship with agencies over the years has tended to be positive and productive. That said, I do know what I like and what frustrates me intensely.

Starting at the beginning of the process, there is nothing worse than an agency (usually one you have never heard of) spamming your team with a dozen requests asking to meet, before getting an answer from the first person they contact – usually because they haven’t done their homework, and fail to realise that clients do communicate with each other.

On a related point, nothing annoys me more than an agency representative (usually a junior business development person) sending me a request to connect on LinkedIn with no cover message about the benefits of doing so. It smacks of desperate mass-communication and does little to convince me that the agency understands the nuances of good targeting.

At the pitching stage, it really irritates me when agencies fail to respond to the brief, have typos in their presentations, but most importantly, fail to do any pre-work on my business, my challenges, my personal background; or when agencies fail to assess any of the reasons why I am looking for an agency in the first place. Too often I feel that the ‘big idea’ was presented to a similar client last week, with the agency merely changing the brand logo on the deck.

Assuming we are now working together, my approach is to recruit agencies for different specialisms – creative, PR, social, digital.

It is therefore important that my agencies work together, sharing knowledge and pooling ideas. But too often, I come across instances where one of my agencies has held something back, fearing it will lose its competitive advantage if it pipes up.

I also get annoyed when an agency tries to be ‘too safe’. It feels that it knows what we want to see, and plays to that – rather than seeking to challenge us with radical, breakthrough thinking.

Finally, I know that clients can be pigs to work with, so it is important that my agencies work with me to improve our skill sets.

If my junior campaign managers are useless at briefing, then help them learn – don’t accept a poor brief – push back and challenge us at the outset. This will help us to improve, and avoid disappointment later. That is what true partnerships are really about.

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