In an era when social media emphasizes the personal in brand/customer interactions, and one-to-one marketing is enhanced by the Internet, ad agencies have been sidelined by a loss of “face time” with clients. There are a number of reasons why personal interaction between clients and agencies has decreased.
Agencies have been forced to find new efficiencies, operating under lower fees, with fewer people. The rapid adoption of Zoom, and other web conferencing tools for meetings, has greatly reduced the number of face-to-face meetings between key agency and client personnel. Further, fewer people attend these tech-enabled meetings, so clients “meet” and get to know fewer agency people, and vice versa.
Clients are delving deeper into data management and analytics, for which they once depended on agencies. Today, clients often have access to competitors’ ad and media tactics, and they can access research and information they once relied upon their agencies to provide. Agencies cannot entirely set aside these “insight” functions, but they must try to focus on what they can bring to the table that clients cannot develop themselves—customer insights and creative approaches to targeting and branding.
Project management has gradually downsized the account service team, as efficiency demands required an individual able to lead the project from brief through final production. This means traditional account service has taken a back seat to project management. Also, agencies in general have fewer full-time staff, and must selectively include staff in meetings and other client interactions, so as not to sacrifice valuable production time.
Driven by Change, or Doing the Driving?
From where we sit, it appears that agencies are falling into line with what clients want, and are complying with factors created by outside forces—rather than setting our own course and controlling our side of the client/agency interaction. We aren’t suggesting that changes in our industry and the ad agency business model do not require a response from us in how we service accounts. We do believe, however, that changes should be our choice, not driven by our clients or forces outside the agency. We should be determining our own changes, not submitting to being changed.
Take a hard look at how your operations may be affected by outside drivers for change. Are you truly making proactive changes that will benefit your agency in the long run? Or are you reacting to forces and demands that are channeling your company in an unhealthy direction?
Face Time Is Essential for Partnership
In the midst of all this change, we are in danger of losing the personal connections our business was founded on long ago. If we allow communications between our clients and our agencies to degrade to zoom meetings, emails, and phone calls we cease to be strategic partners. We become instead vendors of services, easily cut from “expenses” and little missed when we’re gone.
Strive to stay close to clients. Be interested in their lives and hobbies. Maintain top-level agency contact with client C-suite managers. Agency management should be visible and active with all-important accounts. Offer value beyond simply delivering on assigned projects. Be insight-driven, innovative thinkers. Most of all, be creative, offering a stream of ideas and tactics to help clients move strongly through the evolving economy. And always put the client’s goals first. If they don’t succeed, your agency does not succeed.
Keeping agency/client relationships personal and profitable has always been key to long-term relationships. Agency principals should work hard to be change agents, adapting to and leading change. Only by managing our own fates can we survive and emerge stronger in the coming marketing environment.