Some marketers get absolutely amazing support from their agencies! Brilliant strategies and amazing service. Work that builds the brand, moves customers to action and builds business. Great, self-sustaining relationships.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the experience of all marketers.
Many marketers often get less than they want from their agencies. Fewer great ideas, strategies that aren’t really insight driven, low service standards, inefficiencies and dissatisfaction.
This disparity is what motivated Jared Belsky’s passion project: his new book You Get the Agency You Deserve. I wish I had written this book!
I caught up with Jared to talk about his fantastic new book.
Steve: Now that you’ve written and published this (incredibly helpful) book, what might you have left out? Or would you change anything now that you see it in print?
Jared: If I could have re-written this book with the benefit of more time, I would have added two chapters. First, I would have added a chapter called “I feel your pain.” I want clients to understand that I get why things are hard. I was a client too. Clients have huge pressures, boards, bosses, quarterly numbers to hit and a host of other things to navigate beyond marketing like legal, sales teams, shareholders and families. There are fair and honest reasons why sometimes Agencies don’t always feel the love. I think that could have made the book a bit more heartfelt. Secondly, I would have added a chapter called “Let’s look at the long ones”. I would have investigated some of the longer and more storied Agency and Client pairings and shared specific stories from those magical and long-standing relationships. Sadly, I have a day job as CEO of an agency and had to get back to work. 😊
Steve: In our extensive client-agency 360 work, we often hear agency concerns about poor client approval processes and/or lack of internal client alignment. Do you have any recommendations on how to avoid those issues?
Jared: So, you picked your partner in some sort of process that had you evaluate Agency A over Agencies B, C, and D. You are very pleased with your choice and have the highest of hopes for what you will accomplish together. What too often happens next is that the new partner is slammed into the thick of things, without being set up for success. They are rushed into creating dashboards, getting ready for a shoot next week, or working in the engines and auctions to find the 20% growth you need to show your boss or board ASAP. I get it, you are under major pressure to grow. However, if your urgency and pressure sour the start of what could be a very large investment, it will not help you in the long run.
If you can set up your partner for success with a bit of planning, it will pay dividends. The agency partner needs an opportunity to be onboarded and to onboard you. Yes, that is not a typo, there are two types of onboardings. Too often in our industry, both get skipped in the name of speed. The client needs to onboard the agency. This allows the agency to truly understand the client. You should prepare to invest at least three to four weeks in onboarding the agency partner. Truly get to know each other’s cultures, core values, historical work, economics, goals, launches, team-members and so much more. Take the time now, or you will lose time later.
Steve: Your focus quite a bit on finding and developing an executive sponsor. Tell us more…
Jared: Executive relationships I think are a top 3 key to a good and healthy long-term agency and client partnership. We know as a fact there will always be problems. Results will be off. Creative might not perform. The stock price might be down. A new launch sputtered. A team or personal conflict has arisen. Think of all these issues as steam in the pipe. If that steam can’t be released in an organized way, then the pipe bursts. Great executive sponsor relationships help manage the pressure in the pipe. Both sides can be heard and adjustments can be made to work, pricing, staffing, product etc…in a timely manner so that it never comes to a premature ending of a relationship.
Steve: Your recommendations for how clients can deliver better SOWs seem spot on. Having said that, we often hear clients complain that agencies are nickel and diming them and that agencies are hiding behind their SOW as an excuse. Do you have any recommendations on how to best avoid those situations?
Jared: If your relationship is being guided by Section 14, paragraph A, sub-clause iii, in your SOW then all parties are in trouble. Policy is rarely a good way to build trust and an even worse way to govern a relationship. If you are in a situation where something has changed (and it always does) from when you first negotiated, you should be sitting down to talk about the root cause, not the easy way out. There is an art to taking the time to talk about the root cause. Everyone wants the short-cut hence they jump to pull the SOW and point to section 14. Section 14 won’t save either party.
Steve: Given how much I loved your messages regarding “You get the agency that you deserve”, what would you tell agencies if you turned that topic around to “you get the client you deserve”?
Jared: What is an agency? Yes, it’s partly about some output (great media, great creative, great analytics, etc.). But it’s also a collection of core values, ways of working, and behaviors. Agencies who chase profit at all costs, that don’t treat their employees well, and who will take any client, end up with a very certain type of client list. Agencies that are building for the long-term, don’t cut corners, don’t worship a specific quarterly outcome, and who focus on core values and hiring good humans…. well, they tend to get the clients they deserve. On the whole, go find me the top 50 clients judged by both interesting work but also GREAT humans, and I will bet you they are working with great agencies (again, judged not just by talent and work product, but by ethics and values). There is great correlation here.
Steve: I love so much of this book, that I was a little surprised to find a recommendation that I didn’t enthusiastically endorse. One of your recommendations for a review challenge was the idea of “real time problem solving”. It’s not at all that I don’t think it’s an important capability; rather, I simply don’t think all challenges are best addressed in real time (I don’t want my brand platform developed in a couple of hours) and not all agencies do great work this way; some agencies involve more staff regardless of the SOW etc.
Jared: VERY VERY FAIR and points well taken Steve.
Steve: If I haven’t said it clearly enough up to this point, let me say it again: ALL MARKETERS SHOULD READ THIS BOOK.
Jared Belsky, CEO and Co-Founder of Acadia
Jared Belsky is CEO and Co-Founder of Acadia, a powerhouse digital marketing and analytics agency. Before starting Acadia, Jared was CEO of 360i, an award winning global digital agency purchased by Dentsu. Jared held positions in brand management at Coca-Cola, started a CPG brand in Lawn & Garden, is a board member at 2U Laundry, and an operating partner at Overline, a prominent venture seed fund. He loves agency life and also understands what it is like to be a client.
Belsky takes his role in trying to improve the marketing industry seriously and has authored two distinct books, one from the agency side, and the other from the client point of view. The Great Client Partner (www.thegreatclientpartner.com), which was a best seller in Amazon, focused on helping to educate and inspire around soft skills, and how to make client facing agency folks more effective at active listening, negotiations, and asking better questions among other topics. His second book, You Get the Agency You Deserve is designed to help clients get more out of their very expensive and important agency relationships.