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Death, Taxes, and Agency Fees: The Sad State of the Advertising Industry

Death, Taxes, and Agency Fees: The Sad State of the Advertising Industry

I’ve spent a fair amount of time the past several months following thought leaders and consultants who focus specifically on marketing agency branding & sales processes. These consultants are trying to whip the big, archaic, slow-moving agencies into shape so they can survive in today’s upstart landscape.

In the process, I have looked at a lot of agencies that serve as examples of both what to do and what not to do, and deepened my understanding of their typical sales and marketing processes. Getting a good view of the landscape and the challenges involved, I have come to the realization of just how disconnected and false the industry has become—for both clients and agencies alike.

Browsing through agency websites, it’s all the same. “Award winning” this, “mystical process” that. This is where it all starts, and it’s all nonsense. Because when it comes down to it, agencies all slog the same wares to the same people for the same reason: everybody wants to make money. There is no other reason to work with an agency, and no other reason for the agency to exist.

So what’s the point of the elaborate façade and all the the tip-toeing around the tulips that happens between clients and agencies? The kind of marketing speil that some agencies put out, and coincidentally, the trials clients put them through to earn their business, has fully arrived at destination ridiculous.

The simple question of “can you do the job?” and “can I do business with you?” has turned into “what’s the most long-winded, time-wasting and vehemently false way we can build a relationship with each other?” And we wonder why there is so much upheaval and distrust in the advertising industry.

How many ways can agencies say they’re different before they end up being just the same as everybody else? Or worse yet, stop making sense entirely? Sadly, the latter is where a lot of agencies are going. It seems like he who makes the least sense, wins.

And clients, who issue complicated RFP’s, implement ridiculous agency review processes, and strive to isolate the true decision makers from every step of the process… How can they possibly feel good about working with somebody after doing everything in their power to ensure they never really get to know them?

Yet, for some reason, we insist on pairing convoluted RFP’s that promise nothing with convoluted proposals that promise the world. Sometimes I just want to shake these people. Business isn’t about specifications, awards, or mystical methods from outer space. It’s about people and money.

Thus, to the agencies: Drop the murky marketing speil and sludgy sales slop. I bet half of your organization doesn’t understand what it means anyway. And please, for the love of all that is good in this world, stop participating in the ridiculous RFP process. If you can’t talk to a decision maker face-to-face, then walk away. Don’t enable this madness to continue.

And to the clients: No RFP, no matter how visionary, how detailed, or how legally sound, can guarantee you anything except that you will have to pay the agency’s bill when they invoice you. So stop the paranoia and focus on what matters: bringing like-minded people together to achieve a common goal.

The next time there is an opportunity for both of you to work together, try something innovative (you all tout innovation as a core company value, don’t you?): Put the real decision makers of both companies together in a room, and have an open discussion about objectives, outcomes, and value. You will be surprised about how much can be accomplished with an honest face-to-face chat.

Exotic animals may need elaborate mating dances to prove their worth, but we were gifted with speech, rational intelligence, and intuition.

Let’s start using it, shall we?