What not to tell your agency

In the second installment of a two-parter on improving client/agency relationships, Rupert Brendon, a partner at Ad ROI, outlines the top 10 things marketers should never say to their agencies, unless they want to spark interplanetary hostility...

Agencies are creative places, shrines to Venus, while marketing departments are more Mars-like. Communication between these two cultures sometimes requires thoughtful translation to ward off unnecessary irking. Based on where things typically go wrong, here’s a list of things to phrase carefully in order to keep only creative sparks flying.

‘I know we asked you to be more radical/breakthrough/innovative, and thanks for the thought-provoking presentation, but we haven’t got the budget.’

This is like buying a sex manual and then keeping the lights off. If you want to pep up your agency’s creativity, look at what they produce for their other clients or work you admire, and talk to them about how you can be more inspiring while keeping within the bounds of your reality.

‘Don’t worry about the budget. Give your creativity free rein and wow me.’

You can only get away with this kind of bravado if you have a Cecil B. DeMille budget. Give realistic guidelines, or spend the next 10 weeks trying to find an undiscovered director and persuade a struggling production company to invest to produce the next Cannes Grand Prix winner.

‘Could you please make these 15 revisions within the timeline, prior to going to my boss/research/HQ?’

Asking for changes prior to other approvals wastes time and erodes motivation.

Know when to let things go and trust your agency.

‘I know the campaign is ready, but the board hasn’t approved the media spend.’

This happens more often than people admit. The fact that the agency may get paid for its time will not compensate for its disappointment. Being cavalier with budget planning can lead to . . .

‘The annual evaluation and sales data calculation shows you are due 86% of your PBR, but we only budgeted for 75%. Can we please discuss?’

Bonuses? Good in theory, contentious in execution. They are meant to help motivate and reward good performance. If they are in place, they have to be managed honestly and fairly.

‘We realize this falls outside the scope of the work, but could you do it without an additional fee?’

Shame on you for asking. Agencies are not charities, but a ‘deal’ is worth discussing if you can add additional assignments and volume.

‘The creative idea you presented is wrong, but it proves we need to change our strategy before we develop anything.’

Pleeeease, say the agencies, couldn’t we have discussed this eight weeks ago? This is intensely frustrating, and an immediate destroyer of respect. The only way out is to apologize, pay to do it again and, yes, pay for dinner too.

‘When I was having lunch with Bob from Agency X last week, he suggested…’

Threats, however disguised, are tacky. Marketers who bring competitor agency pens or pads to agency meetings are not funny. If you are genuinely looking at other agencies, warn yours in advance.

‘Could you get me tickets to the Super Bowl/dinner at North 44?’

If an agency invites you somewhere, that’s one thing. To demand it should feel demeaning.

‘Why do we need a 360 evaluation? If I have issues with you, you know about it. If you do with us, well, I pay you, don’t I?’

The cliché ‘Clients get the advertising they deserve’ applies here. If you are a bully, the agency will metaphorically spit in your soup. To be blunt, you will pay more and get less.

On a more uplifting note, embrace this mantra: Brief with the passion and creativity you want back from your agency. Approve with a sense of anticipation and confidence. Act with the integrity and fairness you want your boss to show you.

Rupert Brendon is a principal with Toronto-based Ad ROI, the Canadian partners of APRAIS, which has measured, managed and improved over 2,500 client/agency relationships globally over the last 10 years. He’s a Marketing Hall of Legends inductee, founder of NABS and the Marketing Communications Education Trust and former head of the Institute of Communication Agencies can be reached at rtrbrendon@sympatico.ca.