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Agencies 4 Growth Festival Logo
Agencies 4 Growth Festival Logo

Why agencies aren't just 'handed' new business

A few weeks ago while reading the latest industry news, I came across a headline that is frequently used and yet irks me every time I see it. Without thinking too much about it, I fired off the below post on LinkedIn.

I do not frequently post on LinkedIn, so was quite surprised at the response that I was getting – I had clearly struck a chord with others in the industry.

Watching my phone light up with ‘likes’ and ‘comments’, I started thinking more deeply about why this irritated me so much. Starting with the obvious. Agencies put blood, sweat and tears into pitches – working into the wee hours of the morning, sacrificing weekends, holidays, family celebrations and more. Not to mention the financial cost, which can be hundreds of thousands of dollars in resource costs. And then months later (and usually after gruelling negotiations), a success is reported as being ‘handed’ to the agency. That language makes it seem like agencies have a very passive role in the whole process, and more importantly, in the outcome.

So whilst my grumble was initially directed at journalists who are just doing their job – which is to write headlines that draw in the greatest number of readers - my real frustration was with the perception and attitude that agency talent are second-class to clients and pitch consultants. That it is acceptable (and in some cases expected or encouraged) to treat the agency as subordinates rather than peers. *Footnote: this does not apply to all clients. I have personally worked with many amazing clients that were true partners.

From my 20+ years of experience of working with big and small clients across many different markets, the same patterns occur. Clients that treat their agency team as equals in the quest to drive business growth, respecting the contribution and expertise they bring (as well as treating them like human beings), always end up with a better team. When agencies feel valued by clients, they want to continue that positive feeling. It’s like the professional version of a runner’s high: you work hard and deliver good work; your client responds with acknowledgement and appreciation; you then feel good and want to do even better work next time to get the next ‘high’. And the cycle continues, with even better work each time around.

So what would I like to see? Clients investing a bit of time to engage their agencies in wider business challenges, being respectful of their timelines and challenges, and engaging the agency team on a human-level. When this happens, the benefits are tangible: more proactivity, more eagerness to go above and beyond, lower turnover in the team, more creativity in problem-solving and more.

Oh yeah, and can we see some headlines that better reflect the gruelling reality of winning new business?

Allison Coley is CEO of North Asia at Wavemaker.

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