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A recent post by Marc Brownstein in the Ad Age blog “Small Agency Diary” lamented client bad behavior as on the rise.  He points to growing trends of: slow invoice payments, contentious fee negotiations, accounting trivia and breakneck turnaround w/out regard for quality or creativity, most tied to the pressures of difficult economic times.

Dark-side agency behavior is on the rise, as well.

I’ve worked both sides.  Now, as a corporate marketing buyer of creative services in the high-tech segment, I see questionable agency behavior all the more remarkable at a time when client budgets are tight, project volume is being cut and new social media challenges are remaking the communications landscape.  Four rants below that I hear most when I and my Client-Side friends share stories:

  • Mismanaged conference calls. Nothing wrong with calls rather than F2F so long as the Agency team is prepared and the call mechanics work. More and more time is wasted as Agencies struggle to call logistics/mechanics right.  Web-sharing tool glitches, bridge numbers wrong or over-lapping, documents not circulated prior to a call, etc.  I figure for every 60 min call, 10-15 min is lost.  Annualize this for 3 calls/week, “x” people at “y” billable, and quickly there’s $50K in lost Client/Agency time.
  • Intentionally dumb bids.  I expect Agencies to be smarter than I am, in their respective areas of core competency.  A disturbing practice I’m noticing now is for Agencies to “bid the letter of the SOW” and stop.  Used to be, project bids were a means to explore production alternatives to arrive at the best value solution.  Worse, some firms seem to be excluding SOW elements to achieve artificially low pricing apparently hoping the client won’t catch it until the job is awarded.
  • Contractors rather than experienced staff.  I get the need to control staff costs.  The freelance community has been/always should be a way Agencies can offer specialty talent and respond to unexpected project volume.  But using revolving contract writers and designers in an on-going relationship results in lost content continuity,  less opportunity for the trust and chemistry that can lead to real innovation. 
  • Bait and switch account teams.  OK, so this isn’t a new problem.  The best and brightest always pitch, and the day-to-day is then handed off to others.  Execution teams these days, however, seem progressively more junior, much less experienced than ever before. Mistakes are caught later, clear disconnects w/previous campaigns/client projects, and workflows easily disrupted by a frequent need for management escalation.  Another aspect of the bait/switch concerns pitching a set of capabilities outside the Agency’s core skill set (then scrambling to hire/freelance the resources).

Of course, there’s more.  End game, Agencies need to be the professionals they purport to be.  Clients, of course, need to do the same. It’s about respect, about building trust… about committing to getting quality work for a fair price under reasonable deadline.  Do the right thing… listen, then dialogue.  If one side or the other isn’t willing, move on and save the grief.

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