Project Work Yields Efficiency, But Where’s the Why?

As more and more advertising agencies and marketing firms report the trend toward project work over long-term, retainer-style client relationships, a debate is growing over efficiency vs. brand building.

In a strategic partner relationship, the agency assists the client in creating marketing that is consistent and brand-supportive over all channels. Marketing decisions are made based on the strategic plan, and with attention to brand values and positioning. These practices help to create a stable, trusted brand in the minds of employees, customers and the public at large.

But when the agency is handed random projects, they tend to have little or no access to the client’s strategic plan; and they are less likely to have a clear picture of how their marketing effort fits into efforts of other agencies, or the client’s in-house creative department. As John Trahar recently argued at The Drum, projects remain “on an island apart from the success or failure of the larger brand.” Done well, a project may have a short-term but barely measurable impact; done poorly, it could disrupt brand momentum with inconsistent messaging.

Paying Attention to Why

While project assignments may improve efficiency (time to market), are they actually serving the client’s goals as well as an agency-managed, brand-centered marketing effort? Who is paying attention to “the why”—why are we doing this project? Why have we selected this channel or tactic? Why is this message deemed a priority?

Failure to ensure someone is asking critical “why” questions throughout the client marketing effort means that marketing will become less effective over time through a loss of coordination—and inconsistency in the brand promise.

Proactive Practices

Always be sure to ask “why” when you accept project assignments. Explore the client’s need, question the strategy and tactics, ask to see the research—or offer to do it for them.

Clients have thrown up barriers to agencies doing what we have always done very well: discover how to connect the client’s objectives to customers’ needs. Agencies must use their best communications skills to draw clients into more strategic thinking. Project assignments are no excuse for lazy marketing.

Agencies that persistently push for smarter, more rational marketing practices will be seen as the smartest people in the room when brand awareness and loyalty begin to slide. Position your agency as the one that understands that efficiency should not be the sole goal of modern marketing. Be the people who always ask “Why?”


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