Reason #6: I know someone at an agency.
One of the most oft-cited reasons for hiring an agency (and for entering into virtually any professional arrangement,) is a prior relationship between the two parties. The marketer and the agency president may have once worked together, or sat on a board together, or something really important: they play golf together.
Bear in mind, marketer-agency relationships are not always forged at the top, especially in the less-than-blockbuster marriages that don’t involve holding companies and gazillions of dollars, but rather between the folks in the trenches: a marketing manager knows an account executive or a brand manager and a creative director once sat side-by-side on an industry panel, or (and this is becoming more popular,) a former agency pro makes the leap to the client side and then hires his or her old shop or vice versa.
Beginning a relationship with a former colleague or a professional acquaintance is generally good business, since the relationship tends to be built on a foundation of mutual respect and on an expectation level that the work will be executed at or to a certain level of quality. But with that expectation comes a certain amount of pressure. There is an unspoken agreement between the marketer and the agency. Something like “this better be good…I hired you because I know you, and I expect you to honor that choice and to (wait for it…) make me look good.” Plus, if either party blows it, they still have to meet on the first tee next Saturday. Yuck.
As you can see, that underlying (and usually unspoken) expectation can backfire. In some cases, the marketer may put undue pressure on his or her colleague to go above and beyond the typical deliverable suite. There may be a supposition that the marketer is deserving of special pricing, or a truncated timeline, or “special attention.” Why? Because I know you, dude. You got the gig because I know you. The flipside is also true: in some cases, the agency may get complacent, or be prone to lollygagging on certain tasks, because there’s an assumption they won’t get fired by their “friend.”
So you can see that the alternative – hiring an agency where you DON’T know someone – is more than appealing. The relationship is either built on a good vibe about the potential, or (as we read in an earlier post) on a great pitch, or on something that’s generally attractive about the agency and its abilities. When an agency and a marketer get together for the first time, there tends to be a prolonged honeymoon period, where each side gets to reveal a little bit more about themselves…a sort of “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours” experience that evolves over time and forms out its own idioms and its own standards. Some of the best and most long-standing relationships are forged in this manner.
All in all, a marketer/agency relationship that’s built on a prior relationship is not the worst idea in the world. But it’s no guarantee of success, and carries with it a steeper downside, since success is the baseline expectation. On the other hand, the marketer/agency relationship that’s not built on previous history is a sort of professional courtship that tends to be more fully enjoyed and typically more participatory by both parties. The best course of action is to set the brand and your customers as your top two considerations, and then choose the best agency to serve them, whether you know that agency or not.
Next Post – Reason #7: The Agency Has Great Processes