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The good fight: The agency rebuttal

The good fight: The agency rebuttal Kevin Ryan

Editor's note: At this week's iMedia Agency Summit in Scottsdale, Arizona, you can catch Kevin Ryan and Peter Boland on stage for an insightful chat about the true nature of the relationships clients have with their agencies.


There's been a lot of talk about the ad model being broken, along with the agency model and the digital model. Most recently at a national advertiser event, a huge brand got up and complained about all three, spouting rhetoric the same way a gratuitously grandiose politician might.


While I won't give said person the satisfaction of a specific call-out, I will say the argument is tired and clichéd, and stringing together buzzwords to wind up the crowd isn't going to accomplish anything. Also, for the record, not all agencies are bad.


While this person and I haven't met, we know some of the same people. And yet, after reading about the speech, I wonder if we live on the same planet. While it took me a few minutes to separate the editorialized random sound bite section from the obvious pandering repetition of catch phrases, I think I've got the gist of it; "agency is broken, stop using the word 'digital,' stop using the word 'advertising,' I'm sick of straight, white guys and big agencies." 


Got it. Now what? Wait, let me take a stab at that talking point strategy; "add value, create engagement, view ability, click fraud, I'm sick of people confusing rhetoric with accomplishment." See, I can do it, too.


We call those truisms.


Tired of working with a bunch of white straight guys? That one threw me, I'll admit it. If ever a more ponderous comment had been spoken, I hadn't heard it. Saying something like that for its cheap round of applause quality was the saddest testimony to a brand manager gone wrong I've ever seen. I can't imagine what world you live in sir, but it isn't mine.


My meetings are full of color, culture, and walks of life. You want to know why? I seek it out. I look for that experience, and I hire people with that in mind. It's not any more complicated than that and anyone looking to make it so, is looking for headlines and click bait, not a genuine experience.


I've only been in the business for just a shade under two decades, but I'm living in a different world. My world is filled with powerful male and female role models of all colors, shapes, and sizes. My first CEO was not of the white guy persuasion (though I wouldn't have faulted him for being so), and she serves as an inspiration for me today. Sir, get your head out of the dark place and execute change. Don't just sell it to me.


All of this sanctimonious marketing hegemony would be so much easier to take if weren't coming from the guy trying to sell watered down sugar at a thousand percent markup. So much of the world lacks clean drinking water and the guy selling the nutritional equivalent of poison is bagging on my industry. There's a metaphor for the modern age for you.


While I'm on the subject, if you sell flavored soda water, it's your job to dupe the consuming public into believing your soda water is better than your competitor's gaseous H2O. Fortunately, there have never been more duping avenues available to marketers than there are today. And yet, we are surrounded by brand managers wholesale blaming the "agency model" while not willing to assume culpability for their role in funding the model.


A national advertiser trade organization is investigating the role certain agencies played in obfuscating their compensation to their clients. The agency relationship should be one of counsel and sacred trust. Instead, it has been commoditized to the extent that some of the more junior folks coming in to the biz can't distinguish media seller from unbiased media representative. In this scenario, the agency relationship is not distinguished from that of the tech or media sales representative. It's sad when that happens. I've seen it and it's not fun.


Tired of working with other monoliths? Instead of whining about it, tear down the barriers preventing you from working with small companies. Start with your procurement department. Start with not asking for payment terms that can endure the better part of a year. Smaller boutique firms can't afford to be your bank.


Start with offering to pay the agencies you hire and stop asking for the world on spec in your RFPs. A small boutique firm can't afford to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on a 500-page RFP response that all but asks for a creative atlas and complete media roadmap. And guess what, Sir Moans-a-lot? A good small firm doesn't want that business. Because it will do nothing but drain resources and fatigue teams. That's why you have no creative resources at the agency level. Because a good shop can't afford to put the resource you want on the business at what you are willing to pay.


Get of your hiney, sir. The things we need to change are right in front of us. Let's stop confusing acting and doing.


Kevin Ryan is CEO at Motivity Marketing.


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Kevin Ryan founded the strategic consulting firm Motivity Marketing in April 2007. Ryan is known throughout the world as an interactive marketing thought leader, particularly in the search marketing arena. Today's Motivity is a group of...

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