Several of my agency friends have complained that client negotiations have gotten more cutthroat recently. As companies look for ways to trim expenses, many are putting agencies through the same purchasing wringer as their commodity suppliers, often using the same central purchasing team they use for things like catering and industrial bleach.
While I’m sure there’s some efficiency to be found (particularly with agencies that work across many businesses within a large client), I think some of the heavy-handed tactics are short-sighted.
Unlike something like soybeans, agencies vary widely in ability, talent, and potential to help ignite your business.
If you treat your agency like a commodity, don’t be surprised if you end up with commodity results. All agencies have “A teams” and “B teams” (and even “C teams”). The “A teams” rarely go to accounts that shunt off the agency through centralized purchasing.
If you want your agency to deliver exceptional results, you have to treat your agencies exceptionally. It is (and should be) a combined effort. Clients are often quick to scapegoat the agency for mediocre work, but the first look should be in the mirror.
It reminds me of something I read by Adam Morgan a few years ago. He was describing the phenomenon that one agency can produce provocative work for some clients while only producing safe and predictable work for others. Sometimes the safe client complains that he never sees any provocative work. Yet, when shown provocative work, that same client will water down the idea until it looks safe and predictable.
Adam compared this phenomenon to a kitchen, which inspired this other cartoon a few years ago.