For far too long, we have played an agency /client dating game, because really, the relationship is not dissimilar from dating.
From the initial chemistry meeting, when you first meet your agency, you notice things you have in common – what you like about each other, how you challenge each other to be better versions of yourself, how you both seemingly care about the same things. You decide to work together, or ‘date’, and the start of the relationship is exciting, fun even. Sure, there may be some bumps in the road as you get used to working with each other, but it’s not anything to worry about as you are still in the honeymoon phase of the relationship.
So what happens next?
From the Client Perspective:
Fast forward to a few months, and the excitement may have worn off. From the client’s perspective, the relationship is not what was promised in the beginning of the relationship. The agency isn’t delivering exciting creative anymore – their ideas are all the same. Deadlines are missed and the agency team has changed drastically – it’s the third account director since the contract was signed!
The client is frustrated and feels let down. But most importantly, the client finds themselves spending a majority of time managing the agency vs. delivering high quality work. Client leadership is starting to notice, too, as the reports don’t mean much – they don’t articulate what’s most important to the business. Does the agency even care about us, they think? Should the two of you stay together?
From the Agency Perspective:
The agency is also frustrated and feels let down. What had promised to be a client with an appetite to launch exciting new creative has put up blockers at every turn. Every creative idea is shot down, leaving the team with no motivation to innovate or proactively come to the client with new ideas. Lack of direction and poorly-defined briefs mean the team is spinning their wheels trying to meet the client’s ever-changing demands, just keeping their heads above water. The team is putting in a lot of hours to save the relationship, but it seems that nothing the agency does will make the client happy. What can the agency do to let the client know how much they love them?
Agencies are always in pitch mode
If you have ever worked client-side or agency-side, this scenario is all too familiar. And it’s not the fault of either party but the fault of the industry that has created such an awkward working relationship.
Most agencies that succeed today are ones that are driven by growth to keep the business profitable and retain good talent. As client needs are ever changing – arguably more today than even 10 years ago – so are the contracts. Clients today want more project-based agreements so they have the flexibility to meet their ever-changing budgets and marketing plans. They are risk-averse to signing retainers that are three years or even longer, in fear of being stuck in a bad relationship.
What this means for the agency is that we are always in pitch mode. As the bucket drains from short-term work ending or clients serving notice, the team is actively trying to fill the bucket with new clients, bigger clients. It’s survival of the fittest, with the most successful agencies filling the bucket faster than it drains.
The traditional agency model leads to divorce
Large, traditional agencies have been more successful – but they also come with their relationship baggage. They can take more risks as losing one large client won’t break their business.
But in working with traditional agencies, clients may also inherit the challenges mentioned above. Common pain points include:
- Diffused responsibilities as finger-pointing happens across agency teams and departments
- Inefficiency in budgeting
- Multiple touch points
- Unresponsiveness as your agency team works across a portfolio of other clients
- Inconsistent experience
- Frequent staffing changes
- Rigid, agency-led process and templating, not designed for individual client needs
- Process intensive workflows that don’t translate into increased productivity
- Expertise silos
Because of this, it’s just a matter of time before the client is let down, and decides to divorce the agency, convinced that there has to be a better way.
For mutually-beneficial relationships, as recently mentioned in Marketing Week, agencies need to be agile so they can respond quickly to both the market and consumers.
Agencies need to adapt to meet client needs – and clients need to bring the same level of commitment to the relationship
We believe there’s a better way: The Unagency Model.
Our approach is simple: we build a client-specific collective of senior experts that can deliver against business objectives, while making the most efficient use of time and budget.
The senior experts with more than 10 years of experience in their discipline work with their network of stellar strategists, creatives, buyers and writers to bring client campaigns to life. It’s a consultancy-based model, which means clients will only pay for the work done by the team, NOT a standard retainer. And it means that the team can scale up or down, based on an individual client’s needs.
The UnAgency Model allows for:
- Agile staffing and planning
- Adaptive resource management
- Invested senior experts
- Nimble teams
- Responsive and opportunistic communications
Most importantly, it means that we build a client-specific team of consultants, not an agency, based entirely on the needs of the account.
Because of this, clients are able to commit to an agreed level of work – in alignment with the KPIs of course – without fear of the agency going under if one month is lighter than the next.
But this only works if the client is as equally invested in the relationship. When clients invest in individual experts and not just an off-the-shelf agency team, the relationship is more direct and honest, with the team fully invested in the client’s business objectives. We ask that instead of agreeing to a set retainer, clients agree to a minimum one-year commitment to work with the expert team – and clients fees will go directly to the consultants, not wasted on overhead.
We recognize this is a lofty and risky approach, but in order to have the client-agency relationship end in a beautiful marriage, we need to evolve the business model.
Our agency teams and clients are working toward and committed to the same solution – meeting if not exceeding the client’s business objectives, whether the goals are sales, registrations or placements. The UnAgency Model allows us to pivot quickly and progress the relationship in the same way it started – with excitement to do great work together.