Agency War Plan: Educate or Fire Your Client

Agency War PlanWith names such as VivaKi Nerve Center, Adnetik, Varick and Cadreon, among others, agency holding companies have begun to realize strategies that align media buying with future innovation in online advertising.

But, what more can be done to preserve the agency model while digital takes its deserved share of voice in cross-channel marketing strategies? It’s time to consider an “educate or fire” strategy with clients.

Walking the Plank of Traditional Approaches

If you think serving traditionally-minded clients is a successful long term strategy for your agency, you and the client are both walking the plank to an unnecessary end.

At some point in the future, as competitors flood cross-media strategies with the power of digital, marketing executives who have remained complacent will be removed.  With no effective digital strategy, these companies will be slowed if not crippled and CEOs will be looking for new marketing leadership that gets digital. The agency left behind will have nowhere to turn except the exit door as their reputation has been solidified as the “traditional” agency that got us into this mess in the first place.

In turn, the next CMO will hire the agency that shows deep understanding of the media landscape with interactive as its underpinnings and not an agency that says, “Yes ma’am/sir,” every time a new TV spot is ordered.

What to do… There are three opportunities for the agency:

  1. Listen to Your Traditional Client and Die
  2. Fire Your Traditional Client and Maybe Live
  3. Educate Your Traditional Client and Live

Point 1 is where some traditional media agencies appear headed.  Perhaps at the holding company level this can be solved as they throw traditional media agency offspring at the neanderthal end client until the tide changes and “new digital thinking” on the client-side brings in the digital superstar agency under the same holding company umbrella. This may work, but the question remains if this cynical approach ultimately leaves the client and holding company with an underperforming digital strategy team at the agency.

Next comes firing the client.

This may work on an ad hoc basis as intransigent client-side leadership continues to drive thinking that leads agency and client down the plank.  Yes, it’s easy to say, “Fire your client, if they don’t get digital.” But, as revenue and profit goals reappear each year, agencies can’t just sit around and wait until clients become digitally savvy and reap the rewards of the’s vision of a digital future.  Given the energy and resources put into the agency’s most critical product – unique, specialized service – if you the agency is left with a product with no ability to service the future, where are you anyway?

Tough Love And Learning

If you’re on the agency side, it might be time for a comin’-to-Jesus with the client you care about.   Your client is not going to survive and neither are you if you stay the way you are.  The digital media team likely holds the key to the future, well beyond the big ideas of the partner creative team.  In addition to its own big ideas, Media understands technology and data, and here the leverage begins in turning the client. 

The client doesn’t need to throw a $50 million campaign across all media channels without adding a bit of science in the art. Have them use interactive for the tremendous testing laboratory that it is. Take the positioning and messaging that the CMO and creative side has owned to date and test it online.   Start with one position, one message if you have to, but get the client “in” to digital.  Bring back the cogent analysis after a few days of at-scale testing that you can’t get in a couple of months traditional approaches.  Rinse and repeat, rinse and repeat, and voila! – a new optimized strategy for the client’s cross-channel initiatives.

The move to digital is about finding a better way for buying media for all channels. If you’re an agency, educate your client today. If it looks hopeless, fire them and move on.

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