The choice is yours

123W's Scot Keith on five reasons why clients might consider hiring multiple agency partners.


By Scot Keith

Full disclosure. I used to work for Frank Palmer, the chairman and CEO of DDB Canada. He’s a great man, a great leader and a legend in our business. So I enjoyed reading his article, “Rethinking the agency model” in the June 2015 issue of strategy. Frank’s main point was that client’s are playing jump ball on projects with multiple agencies and it’s not good for their business.

He’s right – to a point. If an agency is creating and producing great work that gets big results and the relationship and value that they’re delivering is excellent, it would be bad business to invite another agency to work on a project.

But let’s be truly honest here – there’s a lot of cracks in the agency world right now and many clients just aren’t getting the work that they’re paying good money for.

The world has changed and it’s going to keep changing. We’re all consumers of brands and you know what we all like? We like choice. We love that we can now get lots of great content on Netflix, we love Uber, we love booking a great place on Airbnb, we love buying things on Amazon. I could go on and on.

The only people who didn’t love these choices were the people working at places like Blockbuster, old school taxi companies, hotel chains, Future Shop and Target. Many of these companies either got caught napping on innovation and/or took their customers for granted.

The same people who like choice in consumer brands that they buy are the same people who are going to want choice with their B2B partners. It’s happening now and it’s going to happen more and more. Fight it all you want, but it’s going to be the new normal.

So if you’re a client, here are five considerations for bringing another agency partner in to do your work.

1. Everyone you hired is no longer there. 

This is a huge problem at some agencies. If the people you hired are no longer at the agency, then what do you actually have now? Agencies don’t do the work – people do the work. All bets are off when you’ve lost the people you wanted. You also may be paying for new people to learn your business. Also, I’m going to give you a dirty little agency secret right now: the agencies with the worst staff turnover rates always have the worst bosses running them.

2. You’re working with kids.

The agency leaders on your account are 25-years-old or under. They don’t know what they’re doing and everyone knows it except them. They may try hard, but they’re not even remotely worth what the agency is charging for their time. Some math to illustrate my point: take a creative team of two 23-year-olds for whom the agency charges $165 per hour for their time. Based on an average of 1,800 billable hours per year, your agency is saying that they are worth $594,000 annually. Do you think they’re worth that?

3. The work sucks.

If you’re getting bad work and bad results then you really need to consider bringing in another partner. Unless you’re the problem, of course. That’s on you.

4. What’s a multiplier?

Exactly what are you paying for? Many agencies, when negotiating their financial deal, will use a multiplier that covers their staff, their profit and agency overhead. That number can range greatly and there’s often little to zero explanation of what’s included in that multiplier. So ask questions to see if you’re paying for fancy office space, Sir Martin Sorrell’s $60 million dollar bonus or John Wren’s reported golden coffin clause from Omnicom (Google that for fun). The list goes on.

5. Are they actually working together?

If your agency has multiple departments or companies within the company, are they all working together efficiently? Or do you have 10 people showing up (and billing you) for each meeting? Are they working together or are they fighting each other for your budget? Are they doing the right thing for your business?

Years ago, I was running the business for one of the largest clients at my agency and one of the people from another company within ours wanted me to help him understand what opportunities they might have on the business. I helped that person out.

A couple of weeks later, that same person sent me a bill for the time he spent being helped by me. Possibly one of the stupidest things ever. It was time to leave that agency.

We are in the ideas and sweat business. The best people consistently do the best work and give their clients the best value. If you’re a client and you’re super happy with your agency partner, then do whatever you can to continue that relationship.

But if you’re not getting that, then absolutely look for some new partner agencies on your business. It’s okay to add another partner to make sure your agency is hungry and works harder. After all, you have a choice.

ScotKeithScot Keith is founder, president and CEO of 123W. 

Top image courtesy of Shutterstock