Having spent time both as a client (with a global blue chip automotive manufacturer) and more recently within a WPP communications agency, I am often asked ‘what is the difference between being in the agency and being the client?’ My short answer involves this simple story. As a client I briefed the agency with what my challenge was. For two weeks I didn’t need to think about it, as this was now the agency’s challenge. As part of an agency now, I take the brief. For two weeks it becomes my challenge. So for two weeks I will live it and breathe it.
Is it really that simple? Is it just about taking the clients problems away from them for a period of time? Well yes and no. Yes, the agency takes the problem on to their shoulders but ultimately it is still the client’s problem. So there must be more to it. Why do some clients build in house studios? Why do some clients go as far as creating their own communications agency?
“I am often asked ‘what is the difference between being in the agency and being the client?’”
For me it’s all about adding value. This is the message I give to all new starters at my agency. Both individually and collectively, as an agency we must add value for our clients. We must bring skills and a way of thinking that they either do not have the capability or capacity to deliver. These skills could be technical specialisms; in the case of my agency these are around Data Driven Visualisation and how we bring products to life through immersive experiences and sophisticated, photo-real CGI.
These skills could be creativity. When I use the word creativity, I don’t just mean it in the traditional context, but in a broader, more holistic sense as well. An agency can more easily integrate a culture of creativity that nurtures innovative and offbeat thinking through every branch of its business. These skills could be knowledge based thinking and a strategic view that combines to create an informed and factually based opinion. It is vital that an agency demonstrate on a regular basis that they have these skills, and when applied to the client’s challenges, can deliver an outcome far greater than the sum of the parts.
So all this is fine if you have a forum to preach to your staff, or a chemistry meeting with a client wanting to understand more about your agency’s culture. But how do you sum this thinking up with one simple and memorable phrase? We do it by using this simple rule: Think for me, not Do for me. I believe this encapsulates our philosophy of taking ownership of a client’s challenge, and more than that, it best expresses the need that an agency and everyone in the agency must add value for the client.
Let’s face it; if clients could do what we do, then we would all be out of a job! So, next time you think about what your clients really want from their agency partners, ask yourself: would they just want an agency to do what they ask, or do they want a partner who will think for them and come back with well-informed opinions and deliverable solutions?
I know which I’d want!
Chief Operating Officer