Let's all play nice.
What is it about agencies? Individually we’re usually pretty good at what we do. But bash us together and chaos. And it’s not like anyone wants it that way. Least of all the agencies involved. But there’s something about the process, the people, the egos and the money that can make collaboration tough.
So we got to thinking about why. Is it inevitable? Can it be fixed? What are the real challenges? And is there a fool-proof way to build stress-free inter-agency collaboration that works?
CHALLENGE ONE: JARGON
Nobody makes up more words more often than the marketing industry. You name it, we re-name it. Usually with a natty acronym that often ends in X.
And the challenge of changing jargon is that different people keep up in different ways. So a bunch of conversations are misunderstood or misinterpreted.
Add in that agency passion for spinning up new businesses to “meet the needs of the changing market” and nobody really knows what we’re talking about or what anyone does.
SOLUTION: KEEP STUFF SIMPLE
When you peel back every brief, the essentials are similar and there’s gold in the difference. Who are we talking to? What would we like them to think, feel or do? And how does this project contribute to the overall strategy of the business. Making stuff simple really helps.
CHALLENGE TWO: PEOPLE
Regardless of specialism, most agencies run a consultancy model. Different people throw expertise at different problems to add value to their client’s business.
That’s why advertising agencies are full of experts. But when everyone’s an expert, everyone’s right. And in a world of many answers, everyone is also wrong. The best work in the market is born of the friction in the middle.
Agency consultancy is a team effort. Great work is a great mix of talent, expertise, strategy and tactics. It works best when the experts work together and learn from each other.
SOLUTION: SIMPLE TEAMWORK
Switch the conversation from channels and delivery to customer outcomes. Then gather the best people around the table.
Not just metaphorically, but literally. A real table with real humans knocking around ideas and making plans together.
CHALLENGE THREE: WHO DOES WHAT?
There are two fundamental ways for an agency to make money. Do stuff you’re brilliant at, brilliantly. Or do anything anyone asks you to do. It doesn’t take a genius to clock that the latter is a short-game. But we’re living in a short-game world.
Seems like every day we read about media agencies crafting creative, digital agencies making brand ads and every agency evangelising their CX expertise. And the net result is, usually, average work and disappointing results.
But in an industry of smaller margins, shorter contracts and “the greater flexibility of project work” it’s little wonder that specialists have suddenly become specialist at everything.
SOLUTION: SIMPLE SWIM LANES
Create clarity around who does what. And foster respect around why they were chosen to do it. Then commit to each agencies at a level where the risk of playing out of position outweighs the risk of ‘snagging’ new projects from others.
CHALLENGE FOUR: MONEY
No-one talks about money in polite society. Everyone bitches about it at home. Perhaps the biggest challenge to smart collaboration is confusion, paranoia and envy around cash.
It’s no secret that the entire agency industry is fuelled by ego and money – so why don’t we take money off the table and get on with the job?
If only it was that simple, right? Well maybe it is. Pretty much every agency runs the same basic business model – and people are the biggest investment. We also fish those people from the same pond. So salaries are set by the market – but our rates are often different. Why is this?
SOLUTION: SIMPLE RATECARD
What if everyone on the same project was paid the same standard rates? Call it “enough money”, “more money” and “good money”. Put that together with some kind of carrot that rewards mutual success and suddenly we’re all rowing the same canoe.
SO HOW DO WE MAKE IT WORK? THE ANSWER IS IN THE QUESTION.
If you’re one of those people who likes to look for themes, it’s about transparency and simplicity. Ditch the jargon, sit down with the experts, be clear about who does what and be open about incentives.
And even though the problem seems to be with agencies, only clients can solve these fundamentals. So, if you’re looking for easy ways to help agencies work better together, the best place to start is close to home.
That’s what I reckon, what do you think?