How (Some) Agencies Bottom Feed Clients

If you've been following my columns, I left the agency world as a casualty at the end of this past June. Since then, I've been running an online consulting gig, vowing never to go back to countless hours of backing into full time equivalents (FTEs), job codes, client codes, red tape and political BS.

No worries, this article is not a display of my bio, a sales pitch, or an illustration of my career goals. I made a vow to you back in June, dear readers. I swore I would tell it like it is once my shackles were off.

I was talking to a friend of mine the other day. He's a sales rep for a large site. He mentioned "dealing with" certain agency people and the attitudes they possess. I was shocked to hear that he called to set up a meeting with the agency person (who shall remain nameless), confirmed by email and phone, flew out to see him, and got completely stood up. He asked me if this was common and if I condoned such behavior when I was an agency VP. While just about gagging on my coffee I told my friend that I would be all over my employee's @ss if s/he had done that.



This scenario is obviously one of many. It is not only a reflection of the individual and his or her supervisor; it is a reflection of the agency. How can this happen you ask? Well I'll let you in on a dirty little secret: In many agencies, accounts are bottom-fed. Let me explain how it works:

Most agencies run its respective businesses by billable hours rolled up into a retainer. Senior level executives are asked to build out project plans and FTEs for a given piece of business. The "agency math" is based on titles and industry standard billable rates. The billable rate is some sort of derivative of that title's salary plus a percentage of mark up against a period of time per week, month, and year. Outlined within this grueling spreadsheet is each title, name of employee assigned to the given account, agency rate, and time spent (hourly or a percentage). Once calculated, this is sent up the food chain for comments, additions, deletions, and approval.

After finance approves the document, it is sent to the client for approval. Quite often, senior level people are rarely seen outside of the pitch process, new client relationship building process, and meetings that stem from mismanaged accounts, client problems, boondoggles, or the solicitation of more money.

The bulk of the work (whether it's in the spreadsheet or not) is often (at some agencies) done by junior level folks making from $18K to $40K per year. Several of these personnel are young, talented, and eager to move up the ranks of the agency. Some, like the story above, are pompous, possess too much power, and lack morals. The eager types have great intentions but are left alone without supervision, experience and tenure, and much needed supervision. It is a sink-or-swim atmosphere. Those who are go-getters live by instinct, work their butts off, and move up quickly. Those who are too eager, too vocal, don't take risks, take too many risks, or need a lot of direction will either drown or somehow get promoted. Once promoted, they slide up the ranks only to turn into... well, I'm sure some of you could think of some of them.

This scenario puts the head of Interactive in a tough spot. Once their accounts are won, relationships are developed, and the business is somewhat automated, it's onto the next crusade. This of course is done while keeping up appearances of only seeing those when problems bubble or more money is needed. For those of you who manage the agency on the client side, don't you want to speak to an adult? Do you ever wonder why there are so many (young) voices on the phone in a conference call? Is your original pitch team the actual team that's working on the business? Did you ever think of asking that question prior to awarding the agency that business?

Don't get me wrong, there are a lot of great agencies and agency people out there. I'd like to think I was one of them. Times are tough and the economy is something we all still cringe at. Don't let the bottom feeders make piranhas out of the rest of us.

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