Why CMOs shouldn’t bitch too much about their agency partners
You can’t swipe left or right these days without hitting some blog post or article that claims that ad agencies are failing, doomed, or dead.
Let’s list the most popular grievances:
Agencies are too slow. Too siloed. Too expensive. Too reactive.
Agencies don’t employ enough women/minorities/older people/tech-savvy folks.
Agencies don’t know how to reach Millennials/Boomers/Any generation.
Agencies only care about Super Bowl TV spots.
Recently, it was the CMO of Pepsi who stood up at a conference and gave what was called a “tough love” speech, outlining many of the above issues. There was nothing original or provocative about any of the kind of criticisms he spoke about. We’ve heard it for years, and yes, some of it is justified.
So what’s the solution? Who’s going to fix this?
The very people who bitch about their agency partners remain the ones who have the most leverage to fix the situation. They control the marketing budgets. They control the agencies they hire. And in turn, they control who ultimately works on their business.
Clients get bamboozled in numerous ways, and anyone who’s ever worked in an advertising agency knows it. The executives in the new business pitch often don’t touch the account after it’s won. Digital creative and production work gets outsourced overseas. A bevy of freelancers get called in on a regular basis without any knowledge of the client's business problems, then tackle the work without sticking around to see how well (or not well) the work performs.
Does any of that matter? Well, it depends on your perspective. I recently read an article titled, “The Average Age Of A Creative Is 28, While The Average New Car Buyer Is 56 - That's A Problem.” Frankly, it’s not a problem if the automakers don’t care that nobody near that age works on their account. Ageism, like all the other –isms in advertising, will only fade away if the people paying the bills wanted it to.
But most CMO-level clients don’t ever see what really happens when their account is serviced. They’re too busy or high up on the totem pole to care.
For marketers, if you want more diverse faces, or older faces, working on your account you need to insist upon it. And make sure they’re the people doing the day-to-day creative and strategic work on the account.
You’ll have to go several steps further, though. Ask to meet the folks who are making the sausage. It’s not pretty sometimes. Perhaps you’ll walk into an agency and find a roomful of people who are hip deep in tattoos, wearing Beats headphones, hunched over a computer, oblivious to the world. Some are shy, some mumble, some drink too much Mountain Dew, or they’re simply not ready for a presentation to the Board of Directors. So what? Say hello to them anyway. Sit with them for 5 minutes. You're putting your faith in them. And they're just as dedicated to what they do as you are. At least that's what you should expect.
It’s true that many agencies simply don’t want the majority of their employees to be client-facing. That’s a shame. The people closest to the work can also provide the most insightful ideas on how to improve it, and the client-agency relationship as well. At the very least, you’ll see how your money gets spent, or on who.
If you’re a marketer and can’t make that happen, trust me: You have alternatives. Many, many alternatives.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of smaller startup agencies around the country and the world. They’re experimenting with new processes, new outlooks, and new ways of thinking and doing. Only a few make it into Ad Age or Adweek. And while some of them are truly doing innovative work, many simply are going though the mundane motions. But that’s OK. Today’s little startup could be the next BBDO — and most of them don’t possess the clichéd obsession with Super Bowl commercials. If you’re frustrated with how the “big boys” are running your account, spend the time and money to head in another direction.
Marketing has changed in the last 25 years. Most agencies have, too. But shuffling from executive suite to marketing conference and back every other week isn’t going to be a good indicator. Today’s advertising and marketing is nitty-gritty, often comprised of thousands of pieces of content that go down thousands of targeted rabbit holes. It’s the people doing that work who are the ones you should get to know.
Some people in marketing love to say, “The consumer is in control” of brands these days. Well, if that’s true then perhaps the client is in control of its agencies. You don’t need to make a self-aggrandizing speech at a marketing conference to affect change. Just get in the trenches.
In other words, if you think consumers ought to engage with your brand, start spending a little time engaging with the agency brands you consume. You’ll be better off for it.
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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small.
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