4 things clients, agencies can do to create a greater sense of parity

It’s round this time of year — post-“yesweCannes” — many reflect on changing the agency world, client relationships, service, creativity and how they combine or — in most cases — jar wildly, causing much “frustration” on both sides. The problem is…there is no problem, just simple miscommunication and misunderstanding of the new rules and roles at play.

The brunt of such pieces really boils down to the power “struggle” between both parties when in fact, there is only one of three scenarios at play; you’re the one with the power, you think you’re the one with the power, or you have the mythical unicorn that is “Parity Island”, the place you should fight to get to. If we were to think about this respectively I’ve observed most feel like it’s a 70, 20, 10 split in their favour. The reality is that smart clients (and agencies) go for the 10 but rarely reach it for a multitude of reasons.

Client-wise, in an age of swings, shifts and disruptions it’s not just important to now just pick the right looking agency but the one you feel most will deliver work although I have always said – unless there is stand out existing talent you simply must work with – choose the ones you won’t kill yourself over if you get stuck in a lift with and then “train” them how you want them to work with you. Agencies, build for the future, don’t just take everything. It’ll hurt sometimes, but you’ll be stronger for it and the work will improve — it’s as true today as it has always been — people don’t like working for assholes.

All this said, it’s another year and we’re reading the same issues; “they don’t take our advice” (agency), “they don’t know our business” (client), “they’re rude” (both), “they don’t get it” (both)…the list goes on. The future of agencies is always something close to my heart — not just because they are some of my bread and butter but also because I came up through the ranks of them before going client side at Myspace. Most agency folks never get this dual-view and continue on the hamster wheel that can be agency life but I have found it incredibly useful as I continue to help both parties with pitches, relationship woes and fixing things that really weren’t broken to start with.

So why are we still reading such pieces?

It’s easy to say but hard to action in large, clunky (and some not so large and not so clunky) agencies but times continue to change. There’s a different workforce, a different ethos, a savvier consumer, mobile…the list goes on but ultimately it all comes down to a large swath of recently (mainly thanks to technology) reset expectations. We’ve not reached the technological paradise we were promised and now the natives have gotten restless. Both agencies and brands need to re-reset their already reset (!) expectations. In today’s flexible climate both parties increasingly expect different things and while this is fine and dandy, it certainly doesn’t make for smooth sailing without a lot of work.

1. Understand and reset parity
Whatever side you are on, understanding that both parties need something from the other is key — short or long-term you’re in a relationship. If you’re going through a bad patch, own it. Call it like it is, blow up the grenade and move forward. Remember; you can’t get angry at people for doing things you haven’t said they can’t do.

2. Fight scope-creep but do it smartly
We’ve all been there but few ever come back once you’ve let it infect you once — projects morph and things change but that doesn’t mean you must get the “free” stamp out. Ultimately both parties are there to make sure projects happen and happen to the best possible standard so being upfront about changes is important — as is building in wiggle room and keeping clients updated. If you foresee issues; get them out on the table early on and ask the client what they would like you to do if that thing happens (or ideally before it happens). One, you look like a rockstar and two, you have clear permission to do things should the worst happen.

3. Don’t present fifty ideas at the beginning
This may seem obvious – even trite – but I can’t tell you how many times I have heard stories about or been witness to a pitch with multiple options that confuse the presenter let alone the client. The deck is 120 slides long and IP is literally walking out the door with no leash on it. Some believe this to be “the game” that is to be played but I prefer to think of pitches as taster sessions – make them like you and then work on the idea(s) together. To this end, only ever present one or two ideas to give a flavour of you, how you work and your creativity — more ideas often give off the wrong signals, will miss the brief or create a money deficit you’ll constantly fight to make back — focus and say what you came to sell.

4. Bring doughnuts, not decks
So you’ve got two ideas — are they the only way to solve the monumental task of shilling more of something? It’s unlikely, so fess up to that and don’t pitch the idea, pitch an idea or — better yet – pitch a doughnut solution. A donut solution is an idea or strategy that is specific but can have bits popped out (and in) depending on the desired outcome or if things change — it won’t fit all scenarios but about 80%. Not only does this make the client work as part of the team but it also makes you look smart as you are predicting the future.



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