Back in the day, some of London’s agencies only offered clients a single answer to their brief. I only have proof that this was the case at Lowe, where Frank made it well-known, and AMV, where I worked.
That might seem like a strange idea to some of you. I mean, how many of you work in an agency that does that today? None, I’ll wager. The current situation is typified by a client I worked on who had a clause in his contract saying that he would be offered three solutions to any brief. However, if he didn’t like any of the solutions he could (and usually would) then demand a further three routes and so on until the number was closer to twelve.
Now, you might think that there’s nothing really unreasonable about this, after all if you were buying a coat and didn’t like the one the man at the shop offered you then you would feel entitled to check through the rest. But then advertising isn’t clothes shopping. The client agency relationship ought to be one established on the basis of trust, where the client will believe in the the agency’s ability to choose and provide the best solution (and why anything else?) and see it through to reach the optimum conclusion. To go back to the clothes analogy, it would only apply if you had three prior meetings with Miuccia Prada, Mr Reiss and Mr Byrite, chose the designer most sympatico with your coat vision, gave them several months of back and forth about exactly what you wanted out of this particular coat at this particular time, then a further month to make it with constant contact throughout the process. I’d guess that by then you would know what you were getting and would be quite pleased with the result.
So there’s no more trust. Not real trust. Clients will say there’s trust because to say anything else would be a bit insulting, but let me repeat: CLIENTS DO NOT TRULY TRUST THEIR AGENCIES.
Why? Well, we could come up with lots of reasons for that but pretty much all the fault lies with agencies. Over the years some of them may have acted in a high-handed manner that they couldn’t possibly justify (those ridiculously over the top parties may not have helped. Clients might well have wondered how agencies could afford them then adjusted their terms of remuneration accordingly). Now we also have the brain drain, where worse pay and conditions (still very cushy compared to a nurse, but all adjectives are relative, aren’t they?) have led to the very best leaving the industry to be replaced by, well, not the very best. So clients look at what they are offered and might not think that much of it, so they ask for more work and that suggests even less trust.
So clients don’t trust agencies for some pretty good reasons. But this situation then gets exacerbated by the agencies’ collusion in the lack of trust. If an agency gives several routes then they do not have integrity. They are not spending their time doing their very best work because they are spending a lot of time on routes which will they know will die (not their very best work). They are showing ads in the hope that the client will chose one, pay them and move on to the next one. They also know that there are few measurable consequences of this: ads rarely increase sales on their own, so unless you have laid a real turd, no one can really take issue. Keep your head down, do something adequate and hope no one notices.
If an agency genuinely offered only its best stuff then the client would be able to trust in the fact that this was the case. What we have instead is agencies implicity saying: ‘I Dunno what’s any good. You choose.’ How can you trust someone who does that? You can’t. The client then has to do the choosing, make the decisions and erode the trust still further.
So clients do not trust agencies, but agencies do not act with integrity.
Which came first? No idea, but until one side starts acting with trust or integrity, this will never improve or end.
UPDATE: check this from about 2:50 (thanks, Anon):