I recently attended the ICA’s Agency Transformation Summit in Toronto. Various speakers outlined strategies and tools to help guide agencies on how to protect, transform and amplify their value with current and potential clients. I had the pleasure of speaking about the power agencies could have in a selection process if they only undertook their own discovery phase at the beginning. Such a process would help determine if the client and the client’s business is right for them (and not just the other way around). A client/agency relationship is a two-way street. Just as there is much work to be done on the client-side to improve the process and efficiencies with agency search, there is also work to be done on the agency side in evaluating client opportunities and the fit for their own business. Sometimes, it really is ok (and in an agency’s best interest) to decline a new business opportunity before getting neck-deep in the process.
One of the other conference speakers, Blair Enns, is CEO of Win Without Pitching. He is an agency vet who now trains and advises creative agencies on how to build their business base without pitching. There were several elements of the presentation that resonated with me, even though I was a speaker/attendee with a very different background. I have spent my career on the ‘client side’ and now I work as a consultant to brands and agencies, helping to strengthen relationships and dynamics between the two, improve and steward the agency search process, as well as build road-maps for effective agency on-boarding or transitions. I don’t believe every agency/client contract end date needs to signal an exhaustive RFP.
Blair spoke a lot about educating and empowering agencies to become better value conversationalists when negotiating new or renewal contracts with clients, to stop focusing on costs (i.e. hourly rates against a scope of work) and become more effective at communicating the value that they bring to the table for a client. I love this concept and completely agree. It did however spark something inside of me, which resulted in my hand going up to ask the following question:
“Why is this an exercise focused on agencies? Shouldn’t we also be advocating for CMOs to be trained on becoming better and more effective value conversationalists?”
CMOs are facing more pressure each year to do more with less, demonstrate ROI to justify even a flat budget year-over-year, and let’s not forget the extensive and sometimes unsuccessful process in advocating for more headcount to manage a growing portfolio. Remember that in-house digital capabilities, social media, programmatic buying wasn’t much of a conversation point years ago. Moreover, think about whose budget is typically the first to be cut when company performance is slipping or financial pressures signal cost cutting. Marketing. Who has typically had some of the biggest challenges demonstrating value and the cause and effect of spend to performance? Marketing.
If agencies are advocating for compensation more commensurate with value and less reliant on a number derived from hours and scopes (to reiterate, I support this), they aren’t going to get those funds if CMOs can’t secure them from their CEOs. It is imperative that we train marketing leaders on how to have value conversations instead of cost discussions (insert charts and graphs here) that have traditionally focussed on the number of programs or launches that are expected to be executed, using this as the format to substantiate budget requests and increases. They need better training on how to demonstrate and communicate - in a way that makes sense to non-marketers – the value and vital role marketing initiatives can play in an organization’s growth, success and even revamp.
Investment in marketing is vital to a business. Marketing efforts are critical to brand development, protection and growth, product launch, customer perception and more. Agencies are marketing partners who bring great value to a brand. They need to get better at articulating that value in a way that marketers can justify to their own procurement and finance departments. Along those same lines, marketers are great partners for their business. A marketing department will often take the lead in both times of crisis management as well as business growth. They too need to get better at framing that value to their own organization to ensure the budgets they are given are less derived from a comparison to prior year and more commensurate to the positive impact they can have on a business when funded appropriately.
I have no doubt C-suite marketers AND agency owners would take part in and benefit from value conversationalist training.