Exploring the client cost of an agency review

Had a really great question from an agency the other day you might appreciate. It sparked an idea for a post. “Through a client’s eyes, what’s the cost of an agency review?” While it would be great to rattle off with some nice, fat metric, that would be a challenge. Because each situation is unique. Your client’s mileage will vary, natch.

But here are some quick bullet points to get one thinking about it:

Loss of time. While they don’t know it, clients are billable, too. Their time is valuable. Time they spend on anything not related to growing their brand is costly. This includes ALL time spent in a review. For starters, developing the plan to find a new agency, all the internal sell-in, politicking, wading through websites, getting word-of-mouth referrals, etc. etc.  And the months of time to find the right partner and go through the process of elimination. All to find agencies that a) won’t know your business like the existing partner and b) won’t know the internal, unsaid sell-in crap the client needs from their agency and that c) a client may like initially, but whose looks made fade as the months fly by and your boss is ratcheting up more pressure to produce…

Loss of money. OK. Assign billable rates for all the internal people above. Add to this any out-of-pocket fees for pitch reimbursement fees for participating agencies, the eventual new campaigns, loss in field time and efficiency as the client organization has to adjust, potential mistakes a new agency could make by not knowing the clients’ specific marcom needs, etc. Then, there’s the incremental cost of the existing agency preparing to hand off the business.

And, by the way, a new agency may not always cost less. Not only in compensation, but the client’s production and media dollars.

Related thought: we all know money and time are related. Think through your specific client’s business. Spending time or money on a review loses time spent against work needed for the next big push.

Loss of momentum. Or focus. Take your pick. A review takes the eye off the prize – either continued upward movement. (Why are you thinking about a change anyway?) Or trying to reverse a negative trend. From a supply chain / distribution / stakeholder perspective, adding a bit more chaos can throw things out of whack quickly. The agency gear is not working as it has. And there’s no guarantee a new agency would work any better.

Loss of trust. Putting the business into review is a dealbreaker for many firms. In the partnership analogy, you’re separated at that point. While partings can be very professional, clients should expect less service, less thinking, less attention, less everything. This puts brand revenue at risk.

In new business, agencies often deliver what they think clients want. Not what they need. Think on that and realize the implications. This can mean no third party objectivity, no expert advice, no synergy. Because the agencies will be mirror back to you what you, the client, are seeking.

You will also find some more thinking around this issue from the 4As, the ANA, and maybe even Second Wind.

Finally, from the agency perspective, what are you to do… should your client even think about this sort of thing? Three quick thoughts:

  1. Add some news. This has been written about previously from a different perspective on this site (defending a piece of business). But what can you do as the agency to change things up a bit? Change members of the team – creative, account, planning, media, etc. Bring new resources and alliances to the mix. Change HOW you serve up the service – both from a day-to-day delivery of POVs, review, and ideas…to the notion of adding new ways to measure the impact of your work together. Using both the hard metrics – the “key performance indicators” of the business – as well as the soft sides of the relationship – the professional success of your clients. (Ye olde corporate ladder.)
  2. Hire a therapist. That ol’ chestnut of the client / agency relationship being a marriage is true. While some might think this means hiring a search consultant, an expert is such things, I would question this. Sure, they say they’re just there to help make the relationship stronger…but… Good God. I would tread extremely carefully here. As The Missus would say, “careful now, that dog will biiite you.” (Said with mint julep firmly in hand, pontificating from a rocking chair.) Alternatives to a search consultant might be an actual therapist, an arbitrator-type person, or a business coach.
  3. Make an interesting offer. Agencies, take the extra time you would spend on a review and invest it in the business. The easy way offer is time. Give the client some ideas. Be smart. Give them some ideas that handle a different, but related problem to the kind you are typically being asked to solve. A more interesting offer could be an acquisition of new talent, or a smaller agency, or new piece of target research, or… This is then something the agency will control. Which might actually have other uses across your own business.

Anywho, hope this gets you thinking about this subject. What is missing?