You made rain for L.A.
We’ve got ten grand
For you to go cook us some rain” -Widespread Panic
New Biz Tips from the Sausalito Sausage Factory
The head of the 4As and the head of ANA walk into a bar…
Sorry, there’s no punchline. But there is this advice for new business execs, a.k.a. agency rainmakers, from Greg Stern of Butler Shine Stern & Partners:
Greg Stern: I would start by gently reminding them that their agency is their partner, not a vendor. The best solutions are developed in a collaborative environment that fosters a partnership with a tone established during initial negotiations between agency and procurement. I would also encourage them to be specific and precise when developing an agency scope of work. Keep in mind that there is always a win-win solution if all parties seek and leverage an alignment of interests. I would also ask that they foster formal, balanced relationship management processes with their agency partners, and jointly identify areas of opportunity. Finally, they should be willing to incorporate performance and incentive-based compensation methodologies. We all need to look for ways to tie agency compensation to mutually agreed-upon outcomes that are specifically affected by elements within the agency’s scope of work.
Idealism is like a muscle, it doesn’t atrophy unless you fail to use it.
Stern is clearly idealistic, and I think it is smart to set up the ideal client-agency relationship in one’s mind’s eye this way. But one also has to be careful not to let the actual agreements and practices (versus stated ideals) weigh the process down. People are people and people are constantly reworking their agreements, consciously and otherwise.
Also, the agency business is a service-based business that the client’s purse controls. This is hard to keep in mind when you have a room full of trophies and millions in revenue, but success doesn’t diminish the truth of how the business works.
Two Teams, One Plan
Stern’s advice is mostly straightforward and spot-on. But forming “relationship management processes” in order to “jointly identify areas of opportunity” is the high bar that most do not attempt, much less clear. This recommendation also gets to the heart of matters regarding the agency’s role. Is the agency hired to output advertising on demand? Or, is the agency a consultant who cares about the client’s business as much as anyone in the room?
My advice here is to answer the question honestly or pay the high price exacted by prolonged self-delusion.
Stern, like all self-respecting ad pros, wants to be a partner, not a vendor. This is a true but tired argument for many in the business. When people are struggling to hold on to their clients and the paydays they make possible, being labeled a “vendor” is the least of one’s concerns.
Trust Is The Ultimate Intangible
The overriding theme in Stern’s words is the need for stronger agency-client partnerships. A true partnership takes transparency and access, and both require significant levels of trust. Where does this trust come from? Is it all about the agency’s past accomplishments for other clients? Or is it about the interpersonal dynamics and the agency’s ability to sell?