On the topic of agency and advertiser relations, an industry veteran told me something late last year that I've been chewing on for months. For context, the person who told this to me has worked (multiple times) on both the agency or advertiser side for close to thirty years.
"The pressure on client contacts is to not do something that could cause them to lose their jobs while the pressure on agencies is to constantly innovate and bring new ideas. It's these opposing energies (moving in opposite direction) that can make working together that much more difficult."
It wasn't said in a negative or way. It was a matter-of-fact statement from years of experience meant to help better illuminate some of those head-scratching moments when relationships hit bumps in the road. I didn't think much of it until I ran into a few issues in the weeks following our conversation and this tidbit of insight did in fact help bring to light the source of some minor conflict. Armed with my newfound awareness, I was able to better handle a few sticky situations and resolve them rather effectively.
This is most especially not an indictment on client contacts. It's not about being selfish. Keeping their job doesn't necessarily mean playing to not lose. It means that these client contacts have been entrusted with stewarding some rather important budgets that could literally mean the success or failure of their company. If they fail, it could mean factory closings and the loss of the jobs. They should be a bit risk adverse, as that is just the responsible way to work. But of course, as an agency, we hear from and read study after study where CMOs implore their agencies to keep bringing them fresh and innovative ideas. A good portion of these opportunities can appear (but not actually be) risky and involve emerging channels that are great concepts, but lack the solid track record to make them viable for a client to actually green-light.
In addition, there may be new, advanced approaches to measurement and campaign effectiveness tracking that an agency would like to share with their clients but can't because it might end up causing more of a Pandora's Box effect if not presented clearly and with supporting evidence. Sometimes agencies have to hold back and wait for the right time to bring these things up.
So, yes, I've been chewing on those words for a while now. Undoubtedly, it's a blanket statement that can be completely irrelevant in many circumstances. But if it's more fact than fiction, then maybe it might help our two teams to better understand each other just a little more -- which leads me to the agency and client conversation. For years I've been hearing from both sides that "things are good, but they could always get better." How do we evolve the conversation and update it to the next era of digital marketing? What are the legacy approaches that are holding this industry from reaching its full potential?