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True Lies: Fixing Agency Fibs, Part 2
By: Elizabeth Friedland
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The Lie: “We’re really excited to hear your feedback!”
The Truth: The subtext that comes with that, as one creative explained, is, “We’re also fearful of you killing our ideas.”
The Fix: “We want you to love our idea because we think it really meets your needs. It’s pushing your comfort zone, but here’s why it will work.”

Few clients spend time, money, and energy on hiring an agency partner to only wish for them to produce safe ideas. Of course, there may be some resistance in the beginning while you’re feeling each other out, but it would be irresponsible for PR firms to accept status quo. Push the envelope, but listen, too. Read between the lines to understand what their feedback really means, and get creative in ways to address their critiques while maintaining professional and creative standards.

The Lie: “Hell, yes, we can [insert buzz word].”
The Truth: ”Pretty much the typical ad agency response to any capability questions,” said an agency exec. “We might not know then and there how to do it, but we’ll sure as hell figure that out later.”
The Fix: “While we haven’t done that exact tactic, our experience in X and Y is similar.” OR “This isn’t our area of expertise, but our partners at X Agency could be a great resource here.”

The Holy Grail of clients is the one that loves you so much that they ask you for advice on, well, everything. It’s one thing to accept a project you don’t have direct experience with (say, financial public relations when your firm focuses on nonprofits), and another thing to be irresponsible with business decisions (accepting a graphic design project when the only one on staff that’s even seen Adobe is the part-time intern). What will make you indispensible isn’t that you’re a jack-of-all-trades, but that you care enough to point the client in the right direction and capable hands when you might be out of your comfort zone.

The Lie: “If you award us the business, this is the team that will be working with you.”
The Truth: As an ad creative explained, in reality the agency has no idea who will actually be working on the account. ”What we can say with certainty is this: It’s not going to be the people you see here in this room presenting to you — each of them is already committed to three other things,” said the creative. “You don’t have teams of people just sitting around waiting to be assigned stuff, do you? Of course not. That would be suicidal for your business. What makes you think we have that luxury? You’re not offering us nearly enough money. Maybe we’ll hire a few people to work on this account, but more likely we’ll squeeze even more out of our already overtaxed juniors.”
The Fix: “This is your account team.”

Like any relationship, chemistry is key. What might look like a perfect union on a contract could be a terrible match when personalities collide. Expose your prospective client to their actual team as early and often as possible to make sure everyone gets along well and fosters a sense of trust.

The Lie: Every case study.
The Truth: “OK, our case studies aren’t exactly lies, but would we stand behind them as God’s honest truth, like under oath? We’re trying to tell the most compelling story we can in 90 seconds, recognizing that you’re going to be checking your email and doing maybe three other things while pretending to watch it,” said the creative. “So cut us a little slack, but don’t ask us too many questions about the project the case study is about, because it’s barely an actual thing that exists in the world — I mean, it’s real to us. That counts, right? This is how we wanted to make it, if only we had been given the chance. Hey, the iPhone was a barely functioning prototype when Steve Jobs unveiled it to the world. This is kind of the same thing. Kind of.”
The Fix: All case studies should always be approved by the client, which pretty much alleviates any un-truthiness. 


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About the Author
Elizabeth Friedland in Senior Digital Strategist, specializing in PR, at Hirons Advertising & Public Relations. To learn more than you ever wanted to know about her, visit www.elizabethfriedland.com.
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