Stop Blaming Your Agency; It May Be You.
Frustrated with the creative your agency is delivering? Pitches seem flat, completely off the mark, or resemble recycled concepts? Before you blame your agency, it might be you.
For an agency to provide effective creative solutions, it is essential for the client to provide strategic insight into the project, and your business. This includes the objective, target audience, the competitive landscape, history, and your brand guardrails. It's not good enough to write a quick brief, check a few boxes, and expect brilliance.
Your agencies should be positioned as a creative extension of your team; they are your partners, treat them as such. While it may be their pleasure, to a point, to jump through hoops and pull occasional all-nighters for that "killer concept"; it starts with the client and the process requires a two-way dialogue.
Agencies will only be as good as YOU make them. Help them help you.
As the client, ask yourself these 5 basic questions:
1. Do you know what business challenge(s) you are trying to solve? Now ask yourself if your agency is clear from the communication or written brief you provided. Your agencies are not researchers or mind readers; and they do not live the daily business challenges or political nuances of your world. Provide appropriate insight, background, color and texture.
2. Do you know your CURRENT brand? Pillars, promises, distinctions? It is vitally important to know who you ARE; and arguably just as critical to understand who you ARE NOT. Be honest with your agency and realistic with yourself about who you are today; not who you were back in the day; or who/what you wish you could be (unless it is a re-brand assignment). Don't be annoyed or offended when they break apart sacred assets; or speak in a tone that is completely off brand if you haven't provided the brand guardrails.
3. Are you realistic with an appropriate timeline, budget and resources? If you are asking agencies to quickly pitch for free; you may have to re-adjust your expectations, and put your imagination to work on presentation day. Pitching is costly and requires significant time, money, and bodies; be open-minded to a pitch fee.
4. Are you accessible? You must provide an opportunity for follow up communication and questions. Some creatives don't ask the right questions; and some WON'T ask the right questions. Perhaps they want to be respectful of your time; maybe they need more information from your brief and asking within a larger forum may embarrass you; maybe they are fearful of losing the account; or it may boil down to personal style and they prefer to marinate the creative process.
Regardless, as the client, you must make yourself available to field any follow up questions, take calls, visit their "war rooms, or simply respond timely to an email. If not, expect your agency to do gather information themselves. And don't be surprised if they lift your tone from one of the many social media platforms you currently have your intern managing.
Remember, it is a partnership. Lob in a call and create an open forum for communication.
5. Are they the RIGHT agency for the assignment? Yes, it's easy to be fall in love with the hot shop; but are they the right hot shop for you? Does their area of expertise compliment your business? Are they flexible and open to client feedback; or will they be precious about making creative revisions? Remember, this is a relationship. If you answered "no" to the questions above, chances are, it's probably not a good fit.
If after all of the collaboration, stellar communication, solid direction, inward navel gazing, and pitch fees paid; you still get weak creative? Don't apologize. Don't settle for mediocrity. Look for a better agency.
Lorey Zlotnick is an award-winning brand marketing veteran, speaker, and start-up launch specialist. As the SVP of Marketing, she has strategically launched, built, and managed global iconic sports, media, and tech brands for the NFL, Disney, SONY, eCompanies, and NewsCorp.
Zlotnick is currently the CMO + Brand Architect of Zequity Marketing where she guides companies, start-ups, and agencies through all phases of strategic branding and culture.