10 Reasons to Hire an Agency: Reason #8

Reason #8: The agency did great previous work for Client X.

The hiring of agencies based on their historical success with another client goes beyond just the business world.  Indeed, in virtually every facet of modern life, we reward those who have performed well in the past, regardless of the circumstances that may have led to those successes or the outcomes that may have followed.

Professional athletes receive lucrative contracts based on a fairly small sample of exceedingly laudable accomplishments.  Songwriters have their contracts renewed (and often bloated) following the release of a hit.  Same for authors, actors, newscasters, and don’t forget CEOs, CMOs and a gaggle of other C-dash-Os.

And likely, those who have enjoyed success tend to continue to succeed, especially when they’re affirmed – and often funded – by those who are invested in their future output.  So when agency X gets a “hit” with a campaign, it’s likely that the client will quickly sign on for 23 more executions just like it.  It happens every day.

There a number of factors that make this seemingly obvious connection troublesome at best and downright unreliable at worst.  For one, there is often a blurriness of specifics about how or whom or what led to the admirable outcomes.  Very often, success is a collaborative process that requires creativity, compromise and multiple input sources.

For an agency to be successful for a previous client, a whole lot of things had to go remarkably right:  the idea (regardless of who seeded it,) had to be sound, the hypotheses had to be tested (or at least vetted,) the talents and the efforts of a lot of diverse people had to be leveraged, the client had to go along with the concept and then 17 other departments had to get on board with the vision and execute with excellence:  research, media, production, the talent at the recording studio where the radio spots were crafted, and on and on.  Even for smaller or local marketing efforts, this tends to be true, just maybe with less actual people involved.

Let me be clear, it’s never a bad idea to hire an agency because they had success with a previous client.  It’s quite likely they learned a lot in the process, thereby implying they’re more educated than when they started.  They may have won a bunch of awards for the work, implying they’re confident and have been buoyed by their accomplishments.  They may have even written some case studies or a trend paper on the process, indicating that they’ve derived some universal truths or best practices out of the experience.

So hiring an agency for work they’ve done in the past for another client will get you halfway down the road, but it’s not a guarantee of success for you or your brand.  A number of reasons abound for this, but it comes down to this: it starts with you.  You determine what the freedoms or the limitations will be.  You determine how daring you want the campaign to be.  You write the checks.

Beyond you, it’s something bigger, and far more elusive.  The creative process (even if you’re creating a strategy,) is capricious.  It’s improvisational.  It’s collaborative.  It’s subjective to environment and timing and weather and the kind of coffee you’re drinking at the meetings.  It’s a bloody mess, but it’s the only way we get from here to there.

As a creative director, I’ve often been asked to show previous work to prospective clients, so they can gauge my abilities to both create solutions and direct a creative team.  And I hate it.  It’s not that I’m not proud of the work – I often am.  But all this shows is that I had a series of deeply thoughtful and leading conversations with my client, (often a strong voice in the conversation,) and that we went through a series of revisions to get to the final executions.  Joy.

There are directives (check out “Make My Logo Bigger Cream” on YouTube…you’ll scream,) and imperatives and legal requirements and of course the objectives and the budget restrictions and the market limitations and the testing breakouts and a hundred other factors that should indicate that our agency wasn’t allowed to run free through the fields and put a tree here and a waterfall there.  I was a collaborator in a business process, that’s all. And yet, the portfolio or the reel is the only barometer of our future abilities.  Seems odd.

In any collaborative engagement, the final result is only as good as the least willing participant in the process will allow it to be.  In some cases, depending on your business, it’s only as good as the loudest voice in the room.  So if you’re hiring an agency based on work for a previous client, start asking yourself, “am I ready to collaborate to the fullest extent?”  If so, it may very well be the best reason of all.

Tomorrow – Reason #9:  Location

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