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The not-so-secret guide to getting the best out of ad agencies | Narayan Devanathan, group executive & strategy officer- South Asia, Dentsu Brand Agencies

25 Jul 2018

The not-so-secret guide to getting the best out of ad agencies

Want more bang for the buck, commitment and groundbreaking ideas from agencies? Dentsu's Narayan Devanathan on what marketers can do to make this happen

In his book ‘Thinking,Fast and Slow’, Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman talks about the Availability Heuristic, a short cut that people use to make judgments based not on the most relevant facts, but the most easily available data.

The Agency Reckoner is one availability heuristic that clients use to form judgments about agencies, such as we are, in an evolving, complex age. And, to boot, the Agency Reckoner perhaps succinctly presents the most relevant facts as well.


 

What about the opposite perspective? Why isn’t there a Client Reckoner that has ratings of client organizations by agencies?

Consider how agencies currently form judgments about clients. It’s based on hearsay and personal experience. “Oh, stay away from that CMO, unless you’re willing to pander to his every whim and make very little money, doing it.” “The marketing team is good on this brand but watch out for procurement.” “Brand X has a great junior team, but their head of marketing prefers to play safe.” “Business Y has one of the best CMOs but she’s not empowered enough because the CEO thinks he’s the default CMO.” “Company Z has a track record of turning over their CMOs every 18 months, but the good part of that is, if you get close to the CMOs, you can woo them every time they move to a new company—there’s your new business prospect list!”

As agencies, we don’t exactly help ourselves, don’t question this status quo or deem it unacceptable. But this is actually not about what agencies want. It’s about how clients can get the best out of their agencies.

And this is where it gets even farther from an ideal scenario.

If you need a doctor, you don’t do chemistry checks with multiple doctors first to see if you like their vibe. As a next step, you don’t tell the doctor, “Why don’t you diagnose me and suggest some possible treatment options, for free? I’ll see what other doctors give me, and if I like you, you get the opportunity to treat me, but you’ll have to lower your fees.” What you actually do is pay the doctor for the initial diagnosis and then, without cutting corners, go with the treatment option recommended, paying full price.

A more contemporary analogy would relate to proactively and consistently enabling health and wellness. Imagine a team comprising a nutritionist, a personal trainer and a clinician armed with historical, environmental and predictive data about you and your lifestyle. Creating, calibrating and iterating a plan so you do more — be more productive, energized, adventurous, relaxed and in tune with life.

That’s what agencies can do for clients today. Unlike more traditional external consultants, agencies have always been growth hackers, not inefficiency minimizers. We now have all the resources to hack growth for clients—the various specialists, data, and the capability to make it work beyond cost-cutting.

But there are a few things that clients should do to get the best out of agencies. Start with stating the symptoms of your problem. Pay the agency to make the diagnosis. And then invest the relationship with three crucial factors: Ingenuity, Intrepidity and Integrity.

Ingenuity:requires an open mind, and an attitude willing to embrace the unknown. The best thing clients can do to is be open-minded and show themselves as willing, equal partners.

Intrepidity:CYA is a much-bandied catchphrase used to describe why certain decisions are made by clients. Research and data, when used as crutches rather than to inform and inspire, are the most common CYA tools. But growth comes from risks that pay off. And if you’re not courageous enough to take risks, your bestcase payoff will be efficiency, or worse.

Integrity:Whimsical decision-making must be replaced by transparent conversations. Not just about finance, but business and marketing decisions that affect how an agency approaches a problem. It would be foolish to suggest a lack of integrity across all client relationships. But whether for historical reasons or unnamed (and perhaps unfounded) insecurities, agencies bear the brunt of a lack of integrity in decision-making. A take-for-granted level of integrity will have the agency swear their first-borns to the client.

In a Client Reckoner, these would be the evaluation criteria. And if a client were to be ranked high, it would be all they would need to do to get the best from agencies. Because it would instantly signal how much ingenuity, intrepidity and integrity they bring to the table.

As agencies, we’d do anything for that.

The author is group executive & strategy officer, Dentsu Brand Agencies, South Asia.

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