Advertising companies were originally called an “Agency” because they acted as their client’s agent. The industry has trended away from this as we’ve become more full service marketing firms providing services far above and beyond just advertising, but the need to keep your agency engaged proactively on your behalf, remains the same.

Back in the day (before my time even) in this industry, the Agency would tell the Client what to do.

And that was the point. There wasn’t as much collaboration, to put it bluntly. The business of creative was more of a one-sided conversation where the client came in and stated some goals, then the agency went off and did their thing to achieve said goals for the client. There was also more magic to the creation of creative – art was done by hand and it was certainly an analog era. Clients almost never had the resources in-house to replicate what their agency produced. The industry was more guarded too, with stronger barriers between media and clients. Clients weren’t allowed to buy media direct, but if they did, it would always be a gross rate. Agencies used to live on media commission alone, before the concept of the hourly rate came into play. As there simply weren’t many options, agencies could reap disproportionate rewards by putting clients in expensive media buys. Plus, the person on the client side working with the agency was more or less, a gate keeper of the budget rather than an integral member during the campaign or concept process.  They probably only had “sales” in their title, and most likely only had sales as a performance metric. Those were different times however, that echo in stories I’ve heard passed down from colleagues who went before me, or you can glean from the likes of Mad Men.

Nowadays, almost everyone I work with has a title of “Marketing Communications Manager” or “Chief Marketing Officer” or the like. Moreover, all of my clients who view my agency as their partner are very involved in the creative process of marketing and advertising creative. It would not be a stretch to assume that my clients and I may have similar degrees and additionally, it’s quite common for client representatives to have agency experience on their resume as well. It’s no surprise to say the industry has grown and expanded greatly, even in my tenure. The same can be said for many industries, I’m sure. Agencies used to only be tasked with advertising in print or broadcast, and while the occasional sales collateral was thrown in to the mix, client needs didn’t stray far. Today however, those same activities are typically referred to as “traditional”, and they’ve been supplanted or saddled up to with digital and “new media”. Full service marketing firms now have to be experts in, or pick their battles with, a wide range of marketing avenues. Boutique firms have arisen to address the likes of: just social, just programatic, just direct response, just e-mail marketing, just web, and the list goes on. This fragmentation and expansion of activities under the moniker of “Marketing” has brought with it, a shift in the balance of control and direction away from the agency to the client, including as well, the multi-agency approach by some clients.

While the saying goes that “those with the gold make the rules”, I’ll argue that successful clients are hiring marketing and advertising firms for their expertise and leadership. Because if not, why outsource at all? Just hire some creative types and project managers and have at it. Plenty of companies have gone down this path, some more successfully than others. But if you are engaging with an agency, first make sure they’re your partner, but then let them lead. 

State your goals then let your agency do their thing. Provide excellent, thorough input. Talk budgets and results. Have goals that are measurable and demand that your agency report on them. Strive for ROI – however you define the metrics. If it’s clicks or card swipes, likes or good old fashioned sales, make sure you and your agency are in agreement up front on how you’ll both determine if a campaign is a success or a failure. But once agreed upon, you need to do one thing.  Trust. 

Trust that your agency is in it for the long haul. Trust that they’ll recognize that a happy client will award them more work – because they’ve earned it. Beyond that, it’s the very core of a partnership. When interests are aligned, your agency succeeds when you succeed. Anytime I’m talking with a prospective client about starting a relationship, I stress this point. Let my agency do good work for you. Partner with us and trust that we’ll lead you down the right path to achieving whatever goals we’ve collectively defined. That is what we do – and every other full service marketing firm should be striving for as well. It’s really the only reason you should hire us in the first place to be frank.

If you don’t give your agency the power to act as your agent, to make decisions on your behalf with your best interests in mind, you’ll ultimately surrender yourself and your marketing to that which is lesser. Is there risk involved? Absolutely. But the rewards should far outweigh the risks. And with the correct steps followed up front: clear input, definition of metrics, measurement methods, and demonstrated references and ability on the agency’s side, you can confidently mitigate those risks. So trust yourself, your agency partners, and think of your full service marketing firm as your agent. Give up some control, you may just find it liberating.