It’s Time for Agencies to Stop Giving it Away.

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The Advertising Industry is a very interesting game. If you love ideas and innovation and change and craziness and stimulating people then it is a great field for you.

But, it is also a crazy business that often gives away their creativity for free.

Yet, in any city across the country you could call your local advertising agencies and say you are a client with a budget and would love to have a meeting with them so you can get some ideas from them and they will drop their drawers for free. The budget may be real, unapproved, in a planning document, or on the moon. Doesn’t matter. The client shows up and the agency performs just like the monkeys that dance for Monkey Grinders.  Remember those?

This doesn’t occur in many industries. Oh yes, I can get a free financial audit from anybody in that industry anytime, but who wants one of those? It is, however, difficult to get an insightful and introspective analysis of a company for free outside of the advertising business. And, as a bonus offer ad agencies will throw in some business building ideas for you. On top of that they will follow up by asking you how the meeting went. They will also bring in the best breakfast from the best place in town.

The last time I talked to a lawyer about an issue it cost me $400 for 30 minutes of generic advice I could have found on the internet.

Why are agencies so easy?

Well like monkeys, agencies love the elixir of possible revenue which often turns out to be peanuts. Sure, some clients are sincere in their search for a new agency partner. I have done many agency searches for clients who were very sincere and successful relationships were developed.

But 80% of clients do their own reviews and many aren’t really qualified to do that. Why? Because they are overworked, overstressed, short of people and  resources and they just don’t know how to do more than talk to a few friends they know. Clearly not the best way to find a business partner who can make or break your career or your company’s fortunes.

Some clients, just like people in life are disingenuous. They often feel pressure to achieve results that aren’t possible with the many economic and social challenges that have surfaced in the New Normal. So what is the answer for many clients?

Hey I have a great idea. Let’s do an agency review. We will be able to get great new ideas from lots of agencies to move our business forward. That sounds like a great idea Fred. How much is that going to cost us?  Nothing. We can get them to do it for free. That’s the ticket.

You don’t have to look too far to find out how great ideas can change the world and how many agencies were involved with that ideation. Great thinking is worth more than peanuts. It is time for agencies to stop dancing for free and for clients to stop asking them to dance.

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Watch:  Why It’s Time to Change the RFP Process.

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7 thoughts on “It’s Time for Agencies to Stop Giving it Away.

  1. Exactly, Hank! Too many clients wouldn’t know a great campaign if it bit them in the, well, you know. It’s hard for agencies to say no to spec work because too often that will get you bounced from a review because “everybody else is doing it.” I once ran an agency review that explicitly was a no spec review, and one of the agencies developed a spec campaign anyway! I guess they couldn’t help themselves! BTW, they didn’t get the business.

  2. Ironically was having this conversation just this morning here in Toronto. The scenario was another classic. A client having called a pitch with the illusion there was actually an opportunity to unseat the incumbent. 4 agencies sweated blood and tears – as often happens – for the pitch to end right back at the incumbent. If the RFP had stated “We’re contractually/legally obligated to issue a pitch RFP every 4 years but are really quite satisfied with our current agency” then expectations would have been better managed IMHO. As your post suggests, agencies often do themselves no favours. Conversely, several client organizations take advantage of the agencies (desperate) need for potential new revenue.

  3. I think we engaged in this topic previously and you’re correct here. I back away quickly from any game playing, including RFP’s. Our creative solutions are becoming well known as better than the competition. Our time is valuable.

  4. Not enough understand that we’re consultants with specialized skill sets and experience–and that our services will directly, dramatically effect our clients’ business. The professionalism gap in advertising is huge. Savvy clients understand marketing and they’ll use the agency review for free consulting. Savvy providers use these ‘discovery sessions’ to interview the client. 😉 If others want to give their creative away, so be it.

  5. This argument has been going on for more than 30 years, and it will never go away. The real problem is that it’s fairly easy for a group of talented individuals to band together and start their own shop. So as long as the barriers to entry are relatively low, there will always be an incentive for new agencies to give their work away to attract new business, and he clients know it.

  6. So true Hank. Clients also love to have agencies create the broadcast media plans for free. I finally caught on a number of years ago. I now charge a media buying consult fee, which is prorated when I implement and manage the media buys. Same principal should be applied for agency creative presentations. Clients will have more respect for such agencies…

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