Many people in our industry are thinking about the future of agencies. Mitch Joel wrote a nice piece. I spoke about it before. The majority of pundits agree that any successful agency has to be agile. That’s an important principle but if you’re having 10 different businesses working on the same brand and nobody talks to each other, agility starts to feel a bit superficial as a founding principle.
Organizational principles are fundamental for a successful company but we need to dig deeper to find the real reason some agencies deliver good work and some play in the ugly lake of mediocrity. The culture, the mindset, the inner spirit of the agency has to be right to deliver excellence.
That’s where the moral compass comes in
The best places I worked for had a strong moral compass. They set expectations internally and with the client. Agency business can be very difficult, labor-intense and caffeine-fueled. There has to be more than a good title or a fat paycheck. A moral compass gives everybody a little kick when times are tough. It elevates your agency from a service provider to a consultancy.
Providing a service implies a hierarchy. Consultancy implies a level-playing field: We’re all adults here, let’s try to solve the problem. Clients that consider you a service provider, don’t care if your creative team just got hired by somebody else. They don’t care that your media team has the flu. They just want to get the job done. Period.
Agencies with a moral compass have the freedom to disagree with the client. They are asked to disagree, when necessary. (I know, gasp!) Consultants are employed to provide thoughtful counsel, bring their point of view to the table. That’s where your value is, not by hiring a good director, production company or having close relationships to publishers.
People will hire you out of respect for your insights and they will be more forgiving when a campaign/initiative fails miserably. It’s not about riding high from success to success, it’s about learning from executions and applying these insights to the next campaign. The moral compass will be the guiding principle for your relationship and the work both of you collaborate on.
If you plant honesty, you will reap trust
Empathy is extremely important. You have to understand the pressures on your client and you need to integrate the internal structures into your recommendation. It’s an ongoing learning process. Empathy cuts both ways. Clients have to understand that they can’t expect a Rembrandt when they hand us Crayolas. Agencies need to be clear about this dilemma before any brief lands on the table.
In a world where a bunch of agencies work on the same brand, good agencies will not fight for money out of selfish reasons. They will fight for budget because they believe in their POV and they want the best for their client.
Being a service provider will only get you so far. When you want to make real impact with your work, you need to be a considerate and thoughtful adult with a strong moral compass. Not a reactionary and whiny kid.