The Advent of a New Agency Mantra close

Kevin Danaher
Kevin Danaher
In Musings, Codegent College
17th November 2011
The Advent of a New Agency Mantra

So it’s the third Thursday of November 2011, only 13 days from December and the undeniable “Christmas Season” that awaits us. Naturally in the world of the web agency it’s a very busy time of year. Several things are happening that contribute to this, firstly, every business that can make revenue from the Christmas season is attempting to fit in last minute updates to their digital presence. Secondly, most budgets will renew in January and eleventh hour ideas to use any remaining amount and capitalise on this year are being considered.

Which brings us to the subject of that big B word, Budget.

Many companies’ financial years are of course calendar years, which makes November and December months for planning - planning what to do with budget no one has actually got their hands on yet. Project briefs for whole new sites, web apps and major site overhauls fly around during this period and agencies are inundated with requests from both their long term customers and potential new business partners.

It seems like a period that should be conducive to synergy, ideas flow, budgets open up to accommodate them and deals can be struck. However this isn’t always the case as there’s a paradigm within this industry that needs to be stepped away from, the paradigm of the classic agency mindset. You see, people who work for agencies are generally very creative and therefore want to produce incredible work, something impressive, new, within the realms of “never been tried before”.

Clients on the other hand have a clear idea of what their web site/app needs to achieve and want creative ideas to surround that. It can be easy to slip into the mindset of competing on these fronts if not careful and it’s a big mistake, a throwback to a time when web agencies were “special”, when companies weren’t so technically minded and the agencies were needed.

Generally this classic idea of an agency lead to clients coming up with what they needed and agencies giving them a “big idea”, striving to reach the limits of their creativity and knowing they could command whatever budget they demanded.

This is a reality that could not last, it’s not the way Codegent operates and we’d like to hope we’re ahead of the game due to this, because there is an alternative. In fact there’s much chatter in our industry of late about adjusting the way in which we work with our clients, how agencies simply have to adapt nowadays to a new way of operating. Glue Isobar made this point very well at an agency conference recently, publishing an article hinting that there’s an emergence of a new operating system for agencies.

It boils down to the sentiment I’m alluding to here. Customers don’t always want a big idea, (some do, granted) but mostly they want you to listen to their needs. Most sites serve a particular purpose; ecommerce, social interaction, generating business and if you get hung up on the big ideas you can lose the core purpose of the requests being made of you as an agency. Clients will be living with the site you deliver them for the foreseeable future, they need it to be worth it’s cost, a long term revenue stream. Agencies want the short term revenue from completing that project and also the potential to flex their creative muscles. These two agendas are of course at odds with one another so how do you combat this problem as an agency?

The way to work in synergy with clients is simple, listen.

Understand the needs of your client's business, as well as the site they are asking for. If you understand their business you’ll understand why they have that brief, why they think they need those things. It may mean that you end up poking holes in the brief, pointing out what they really need and why it makes better sense for their business, but that’s the whole point. As an agency the goal should be to work  collaboratively with a client, act as their advocate and understand their needs, the desired journey and the end goal. If an agency can do this then the relationship will only blossom, the customer will trust the agency and vice versa.

There’s the classic trifecta on any project which works on a principle that’s basically 100% true. You have cost, speed and quality. If you focus on two of these you will make a sacrifice on the other but the way to minimise the impact of these is by knowing one another. Clients who have no idea what work is involved in production often focus on speed and they don’t understand why the length of the process is so great. As an agency who’s attempting to work alongside your clients rather than against them why not educate them in this process? Don’t belittle their lack of knowledge, increase it and you’ll work much better together, with even more of the trust mentioned previously.

I don’t want to blow our own trumpet too much, there are several agencies out there who work this way, taking time to understand each client and forming a lasting partnership on their projects. In fact the Glue Isobar article I mentioned earlier speaks to much of this understanding of the client. Representing them in their digital endeavours, rather than battling them for more creative “fun” stuff to work on. Most needs are simple and every now and again those big, fun, highly creative projects come along, but trying to turn every project into one of those is a huge mistake and will mean missing the mark more often than not. Listen to clients, really know what they want, then understand why they want it, after that you’re on their side and it can only deliver the right result.