What’s your agency relationship worth to you?

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It’s the most important question brands must answer in 2022.

When clients ask me how much we cost, I respond by saying: “What’s it worth to you?” 

Usually, I’m met with incredulous looks. But it’s a rather practical query to get brand leaders to think about how valuable marketing is to their company. When they realize what I’m really asking, it opens the door to a more productive way of approaching, and budgeting, our collaboration. 

Our industry has been stuck in a “this costs that” mentality for a long time. Agencies have groomed clients to choose what they want from a menu of services. Or, have procurement departments groomed us to deliver options like a vending machine? Either way, this approach puts tactics before strategy. That can lead to money wasted with little return.

As agencies, our job is to identify our clients’ problems and solve them with properly scoped and priced solutions. This is more challenging as the media landscape expands while the demand for personal experiences reaches further into niche pockets. 

In this landscape, many brands are debating whether to move creative in-house. I urge these brands to pause and ask: What does your business really need to achieve?  What is the value of meeting those outcomes? 

If you let your agencies in to advise how you on how to get there, it will help you avoid traps that many brands fall into: delivering a “bad brief” that doesn’t clearly communicate your business needs, or mis-budgeting based on past projects that aren’t comparable in workload or results.

Recently, we were approached by a brand that wanted a website refresh. It became clear in the initial conversation that they needed much more. Through conversations with their leadership team, we began to understand their aspirations, challenges and opportunities. \

By honing in on what they really needed, we helped them uncover a multi-market goldmine of business opportunities to the tune of nearly nine figures. Once we understood what was at stake, they were able to say with clarity what a well-executed plan could bring to their business. 

We are moving forward with a plan that includes a website refresh, but more importantly, begins with brand strategy and  positioning. The leaders trust our expertise and people to make the right move for their business. 

The value of a client-agency relationship is more than dollars and cents or any one project. It’s the experience and chemistry of people coming together to solve problems, innovate and create. 

Effectively navigating big decisions requires a deep understanding of a client’s priorities, challenges, ambitions, culture and impact. Successful long-standing brand-agency relationships are built on trust and the integration enabled by it. 

As you assess the value of your partnerships, be crystal clear on the problem you are solving together, define what success in your partnership looks like and assess your respective team strengths … and use them! Be realistic about the expertise, skills, time and resources of the parties involved. 

This kind of transparency opens up possibilities to know your audience better. All too often, brands move without clarity about who they want to engage with and why. It will also help you be deliberate about your messaging strategy. Agencies can help you avoid chasing shiny objects that don’t fit your overall strategy. 

Most importantly, a strong agency-client relationship enables a consistent customer experience.  

It’s critical that clients and agencies match realistic goals and expectations to outcomes and cost. Don’t be afraid to ask, “What’s it worth to you?”

Andrew Howlett is CEO and partner at Struck.

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