The late Steve Jobs once quoted Henry Ford who said “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” regardless of whether or not Henry Ford really uttered those words, the point is, and to quote Jobs once more “customers don’t know what they want until you have shown it to them.”
In the client servicing industry, I think this couldn’t be any truer. At the same time, it’s important to note that this isn’t license to tell a client “NO!” or to treat them with condescension. Instead, it means that the duties of marketers in agencies and consultancies is to show clients what their businesses need, even if it’s something they don’t agree with or know about. Drawing from my own experience, I think this boils down to three main points:
Agencies and consultancies are there to do the brain work:
If brands were interested in having ‘doers’, where they need to relay specific instructions on how things should be done, they could easily hire an army of interns and juniors to do that. But the point of hiring a consultancy is that the expertise they bring, the creativity and in-depth industry knowledge. Always remember that brands hire agencies so that you challenge their views, play devil’s advocate while also keeping them updated with the latest developments in your field. There is no use in hiring a ‘yes person’ as a consultant.
Agencies and consultancies are there to serve as the brands’ ‘fresh pair of eyes’
As a person who worked with a major brand in the Middle East for over four years, it is surely easy to get stuck in the same rhythm of corporate culture. Therefore, it is actually the agency’s role to bring in ‘disruptive innovation‘, and the first step to be able to do this in a constructive way is to actually understand the rules and then know when to break them. This means fully integrating with the brand’s goals, objectives, strategic direction, values and culture, and then knowing what sort of fresh, new concept could come in to serve all of those things but probably didn’t pop into the minds of Brand Managers, Digital Strategists, etc. because they are consumed with the day-to-day operations…which brings me to my third point…
…Agencies and consultancies need to think in-house, but act outsourced
Most brands are reluctant to outsource creative work to agencies, and especially in social media, because they feel that no agency will be able to live and breathe the brand like they do. This is a perfectly valid argument, but the value of recruiting an agency is the knowledge they bring to the table, not necessarily because agences are smarter than brands (that’s far from the truth), but because the environment they work in harbors creativity, because it is their bread and butter, and because they see the brand in a new light. They are able to innovate in a more seamless manner.
At the end of the day, agencies need to do what’s best for their clients. Even if it means making unpopular decisions or having to spend a few extra hours in preparing a presentation that aims to convince the client of a concept, agencies need to put the clients’ best interests at heart. On the same note, clients and brands need to have a little of faith in agencies and their capabilities – you might not get what you thought of seeing, but if an agency brought you what you already thought of, isn’t it kind of pointless to pay thousands of dollars for them ;-).