Last month I shared about the surge of suits from consultancy firms on agency turf and how that has forced us in the industry to ask “Is it time to Change the Client-Agency Conversation?”
So what is that new conversation like? How do we acclimatise to this evolving dynamic? Questions are many, answers are varied. Every transition comes with its fair share of teething problems but enjoying the process and riding the wave is what keeps the best amongst us going!
In the past year, we at Happy Marketer have had some interesting opportunities to experience this industry-shift first hand which has helped us evaluate ground realities better. Today we look back to those experiences to understand, where are the opportunities for the Mad Men to don their suits?
If you can’t beat them, join them
The future of the industry may just be more collaborative than competitive. Consultants and Agencies are the classic right brain-left brain combination - one tidy and rational, the other messy and intuitive. Great partnerships have started with much less!
While competitive energies have led to a flurry of acquisitions and mergers; collaborative energies lead to productive partnerships taking both parties on a learning accelerator of sorts.
In the past year, I have been part of one such Happy Marketer partnership with one of the Big Three of Management Consulting and can vouch for the fact that each of those projects have personally taken me on an exponential growth curve.
It’s truly fantastic to collaborate with some of the best minds in the industry and be able to understand how much value we as agencies bring to the table. More than anything else it is definitely a wormhole entry to that coveted seat at the strategy table!
In my opinion, the key to such successful partnerships are absolute transparency, an open mind and most importantly the capability to recognize & respect complementary skills of both partners.
“Work” alone doesn’t get us a seat at the strategy table, thought-leadership does
Let’s take an example:
What does a typical day at an agency look like?
Very likely some combination of: Brief-Pitch-Ideate-Reject-Revise-Reject-Revise-Reject-Revise-Late!-Approve-Phew!-Execute-Report-Brief-Pitch…and on it goes.
Now let’s think about what a typical day in a consulting firm looks like.
Usually a combination of:
Research-Analysis-Insights-Client brainstorming-Stakeholder buy-in-Expectation alignment-Big picture strategy-Diagnostics-Roadmap-Potential Solutions-Feasibility checks-Client brainstorming
One expects the client to always have the answers, the other goes on a journey with the client to find the answers. Who do you think will get that coveted seat?
If we can untangle ourselves from the drudgery of singular campaigns and instead focus on thought leadership, agencies can become true strategic thinking partners for their clients. We are literally sitting on a mountain of coveted, proprietary brand data which sometimes even clients themselves are unaware of.
Adopt a collaborative approach, be proactive in providing new perspectives to clients, try to uncover unseen problems or opportunities even before being asked - the path to that boardroom conversation is paved with strategically positioned nuggets of wisdom, not just campaign execution!
Legacy is powerful - Evoke the history of your client relationships
As an agency, we sometimes make the mistake of underestimating the history of our partnerships with brands and the legacy of work we have created together.
If there is one thing in human history that has withstood the test of changing times, it is human relationships. Consultants typically spend over 50% of their time in building client relationships precisely because they understand this fact.
Why the overdue importance to relationships? Because our next big project is not in the next brief but it is right there in the minds of the people who are emailing us those briefs.
Nurture your client relationships, try to understand what keeps them up at night - reach beyond that brief and you will be surprised to see how quickly attention shifts to the value of this symbiotic relationship rather than the performance of a singular campaign.
Look inwards - Identify your strengths and shift your self-image
Remember that brand refresh campaign you planned last quarter for a client? It’s time to start planning one for yourself!
If we want to change the way we as agencies are perceived and the kind of engagements we get involved in then we have to be the first ones to step up and proactively offer proof-of-concept. Even before that, we need to see ourselves in a different light and task ourselves with upskilling and upscaling our offerings.
As we go along on this trajectory, I think it’s really important to remind ourselves that nobody knows our client’s internal marketing machinery as well as the agency executing their current campaign - we have a head start in this race but it’s up to us to recognise that and keep running in the right direction.
Want to change the conversation? Well then, let's start talking about something else!