What I don't want from an agency

After taking a leap from the agency world to actually become a client, there comes a time I need to adjust myself mentally and, to a certain extent, physically. The learning curve is steep and can be intense at times. The most important adjustment is to begin thinking from a different perspective: What is most important to me as a client?

I have come to an early realisation that becoming a client has a different set of responsibilities and focus points. These weren't even apparent when I was living my agency life because creative was the most powerful force in business. It still is, but the application should be a little different. At times, I can't even comprehend the things I used to spend so much time working on for my clients and now from this side, it's meaningless and pretty much noise.

So, what I don't want from an agency?

  • I don't need an agency's show reel. Spending three to five minutes looking through some amazing work on how a shampoo has changed the life of an individual does no benefit to me as a client. I will get more engaged if it's just one bullet point that says: "How we can help simplify." Much of marketing client's daily lives revolves around managing the requirements of operations, financial obligations, processes and stakeholders. They lead a very complex matrix life and the one thing they need from an agency is how working with them can save time and effort. Not how a shampoo can change the world.
  • Do not go missing for two weeks. We give a brief, the agency runs off to brainstorm and comes back with solutions. How much would an agency know about our business from one brief? You need constant communications. Ask questions, be open about the fact you do not know about our business and let us help you understand it. A collaborative effort is more important in getting to the goals together. I cannot afford that these two weeks are wasted because the agency lacks understanding and the right information.
  • Don't bring your family. I need contributors, who can actively engage with us, provide us opinions and thoughts. Less is more in this case.
  • Don't start with your credentials. Leave your credentials at the end if you insist: better if you forget about it. Share your value as an agency from the work you do for us, rather than showcase how you do it for others. A recommendation is to start with an agenda and politely ask your client whether that is in line with what they want. If not, cut that stuff out immediately rather than force your client through it. I have sat through meetings where the agency spends more than half the allocated time talking about themselves and running short on time on what they can do for us.
  • Don't forget to try our products. You want our business, and yet the most important people working on our products have not even tried it. Yes, the CEO or MD might have done so but how about your strategists and creative team who are actually creating the insights and creative ideas? If they have not experienced the buying process and tried the products, how can they put themselves into the shoes of consumers and be able to articulate what the opportunities are?
  • Big ideas. Everyone loves a big idea conceptually, and it has a great ring to it too. I'm not against big ideas but my consideration is "Can it be executed?" or "Is it grounded?" I am more keen to hear an agency who has an idea but the attention to details to bring it to life is more important than the idea itself. Great ideas with bad executions are a sure way to disaster.

When I was in an agency, I did all the above and at times, didn't manage to see above what the client really needed. It did not help that clients can sometimes be a bit reserved in telling us what they truly want but just give us a poker face. However, I am hoping these few simple truths can save some meetings, back-and-forths, as well as uneventful work.

As a client, I felt I have the responsibility to make sure my agency will be successful because they are an extension of marketing. So, it's in my vested interest to provide clarity and support.  On the agency side, start thinking how you can be part of that extension.


The author of the article is Jit Hoong Ng, assistant senior vice president, Resort Marketing Services.