Why people think agencies suck.


Did you catch the recent Agency Perception Research in the latest Marketing Magazine? Tangible asked a bunch of marketers what they thought of specialist agencies. And nestled among the good news, there’s a worrying perception that agencies suck.

If you sum up the feedback it seems like the industry tasked with managing perceptions for their clients has dropped a ball on its own product. So as we scramble to reset the rules in this digital-fast, think-about-it-later new world of marketing, here’s our take on the most common mis-perceptions and why we reckon they’re born out of agencies doing exactly what their clients have always expected them to do.

“Agencies don’t listen.”

It’s easy to understand this perception. But it isn’t true. It’s not our job to deliver exactly what clients are looking for. It’s on us to create something they couldn’t have come up with themselves. We’re here to create, not regurgitate. It’s how we add value. And most clients lean on their agencies to do exactly that. That’s why we challenge briefs and question strategy and strive to do something genuinely different. And sometimes, in our enthusiasm to add value it may look like we didn’t clock the brief. But we did and we’re listening, we’re just not always doing exactly what you asked for.

“Agencies don’t understand our business.”

That’s a fair call. Few agencies will understand a client’s business as well as their client. It’s not our job. Our role is to deeply understand people and creativity to help find the best ways to connect. In fact, gaps in understanding are what help us build a bridge out of the corporate echo chamber. If we don’t get it, no one will. And there’s truth in the fact that the more you know the more complicated things can get – while every customer of every business will tell you they like things simple.

“Agencies are too expensive.”

By the hour, we totally are. Renting a car is more expensive than buying one. But agencies don’t just swap talent for money by the hour, they curate specialist teams who are on tap to solve problems. The key point here is team. An agency product isn’t great copy or brilliant design, it’s a team effort. And if you’ve ever spent half-an-hour with an outstanding strategist or a smart creative director you’ll know how much value they add. But great senior talent costs serious money. That’s why your agency will amortise that cost over several different clients on various different projects. So you get the benefit of the best talent in the market without filling your garage with expensive Ferraris.

“Agencies take too long.”

The trite answer to this is ‘good things take time’. But it’s more than that. Creativity is an iterative, reductive process. It’s about coming up with lots of stuff and stripping away everything that doesn’t matter until you have the purest, simplest expression of an idea. It takes a while, but we don’t stuff around. Agencies have been agile since before it was a buzzword. But we won’t settle for a minimum viable product, your brand is too important for that. Anyone can whack their first idea into the market, cross their fingers and pray. But agency process adds a level of double-check and counter balance to make sure only the best ideas are experienced by customers. Because those are the ideas that get the best results.

“Agencies only care about awards.”

It’s fair to say that any good agency will be unapologetically passionate about delivering the best work in the market. Advertising awards help set the bar. But it’s less about ego and beauty pageants and more about benchmarking brilliance. The best award shows go beyond pretty pictures to genuinely recognise hard-working marketing campaigns that have a significant business impact. And that’s what most clients want their agencies to deliver.

So how does that all add up?

There will always be some friction between agencies and their clients. It’s how you generate enough heat to create great work. But chances are we’re listening while we challenge, we understand enough without getting lost in the detail and we’re working around the clock to deliver something brilliant. And yes, this process costs money. But chances are the expertise you’re buying as a team is no more expensive than buying all that talent direct. And when we tick all the boxes and work together and land something awesome and effective, chances are you’ll be proud as punch if our industry peers give us all a prize.

So even as it’s tricky to understand the exact mix of talent and partners you need to navigate the new world of marketing, it’s definitely worth considering an agency. Sure, we’ve dropped a ball on your perception of how we add value. But that’s probably because we were busy making things brilliant for you.

That’s what I reckon, what do you think?

Michael Goldthorpe