Too many clients today are so focused on cost-cutting, they ignore the most essential part of effective marketing—customization. You can’t order custom marketing the same way you would order a replacement machine part. And let’s face it—every marketing effort for every client is a custom-tailored fit.
Today, the agency-client conversation is likely to happen as follows:
A CEO tells his marketing people to find a vendor to produce parts of the new product launch. The marketing director is required to use the company’s procurement department. The procurement officer is charged with getting the lowest bid for the project. Results are not part of that consideration. Several area agencies are sent RFPs, requiring that they submit proposals per rigidly specific written requirements; agree that any ideas submitted become the property of the requesting client (without compensation to the agency, of course), and demanding a ridiculous number of elements for an insanely small budget. They may also dictate certain “creative” elements as already set in stone. A few desperate agencies may actually respond. The smart ones sigh, toss the RFP into the nearest round file, and get on with doing custom work for those few clients who understand that every marketing effort requires a custom plan and execution.
It’s like ordering a custom-tailored suit. You do some research, check reviews and recommendations, find a good tailor and make an appointment to discuss your needs. You explain what you are looking for; he suggests a few ideas you like; you discuss further, and he suggests he show you some similar suits. You choose cuts and fabrics with his guidance, based on which he produces an estimate, which includes a certain number of fittings. Based on all of the tailor’s positive recommendations, you agree to the price; it is a custom suit, after all. He takes your measurements, tells you when to expect a call for a fitting, and sends you on your way.
This is how clients used to work with ad agencies and marketing firms.
Companies would say, “We have a new product launch coming up. Let’s find a good agency to help us with that.” They do some investigating online, talk to business associates about their ad agencies, maybe get a strong recommendation to your agency from a past or current client. They issue an invitation to discuss the assignment. They provide background, you ask smart questions about their needs and objectives. They say, “This is what we had in mind,” and detail some campaign elements. You perhaps make some alternative suggestions. They eventually agree to a list of items to include in the scope of work, and you ask them to give you a day to assemble an estimate, as there are some variables you need to confirm.
Your agency estimators meet with the AE/principal and discuss the client’s needs. Costs are calculated. You build a tiered proposal, so the client has options on what they want to spend, and adjust each tier based on the value you’ll deliver to the client. You may suggest a risk/reward element—if you exceed the objectives you gain an additional fee for each percentage of improved results. You return to the client to share your proposals. After some budgetary and timing discussions, they select a project tier and they sign off on a scope of work based on that pricing. Then you get to work.
You research the client, competition, industry and specific situation. The account planners offer insights and draft a creative brief. The brief is approved by the client. The creative team develops concepts based on the brief, the AE and CD present the best idea to the client. There is some discussion and feedback; perhaps a second round of creative is needed to tighten up the concept. The client oks the second presentation and the agency executes the idea, and measures results. There may even be further “alterations” as you test and refine messages.
It is a custom-tailored marketing effort from start to finish.
Be a custom tailor, not off the rack.
Marketing is only partly a science; there is a lot of art in the conception, execution and delivery of a marketing campaign. That variability makes bottom-line-focused C-suite types, and their procurement officers, very uncomfortable. By ignoring the customized nature of marketing, they end up contracting the lowest tier vendor agencies to do prescribed marketing work, and then wonder why their results are off-target, disappointingly bland, or simply ineffective.
We’ve written elsewhere about the need for agencies to sell value, not deliverables. What results will your work provide? What are those results worth to the client? If clients insist on contracting low-bid vendors to give orders to, they shouldn’t be surprised when the results are awful, versus what a true marketing consultancy would provide. Agencies can’t accept lowest-bid work and then claw their way to a consultancy position. Agencies are custom tailors, not selling ideas off the rack.
Build your reputation around smart, accountable and creatively brilliant work. Decline to work for the lowest bid. There are better ways to get your foot in the door than accepting RFPs that corner you into the vendor category. You produce custom marketing for clients willing to pay for the best—a custom fit.