Agencies Need To Toss The 'Bad Client Narrative'

Agency consultant Jack Skeels had some words of advice for agencies that get hung up on what he called the “bad client narrative.”

In a nutshell, even if it’s true, he told a gathering at an agency conference in Toronto this week to get over it. The negative thinking isn’t going to improve the relationship.

Instead, he recommends convert those perceived shortcomings into growth opportunities.

“The narrative is the agency is stupid, clients don’t understand the business, and they’re responsible for our changes, overages and last-minute crises.”

He likened that attitude to “my car repair shop complaining that I bring my car in at an inconvenient time. The reality is any client who’s deficient in any way is an opportunity for growth.”

The better approach for agencies: “Teach CMOs the elements of customer experience to help them understand their customers better, beef up skills and think of how marketing investments pay for themselves.”



Skeels stressed repeatedly that customer experience is the “real game” going forward.

“Advertising is going to take a back seat to the classic definition of marketing. The customer journey will become the new language of the C-suite,” Skeels said. “The conversation is about the stages of customer interaction, which goes far broader than advertising. And the person who theoretically should be wearing the crown, the CMO, is the weakest player in the room.”

Obviously Skeels was talking about some, maybe even many CMOs, but definitely not all. Like Bank of America’s Anne Finucane, for example. Check out the conversations she had with Ken Auletta in his new book "Frenemies" about the ad business and the access she granted him to some top-level meetings.

You’ll also learn about the sway she’s had as a marketing chief (she’s now vice chair at B of A) with more than one CEO. She’s a player all right and not a weak one.

So while there are exceptions, Skeels asserted that “CMOs usually aren’t versed in cross-organizational skills, and they’re not very strategic thinkers. They come up being very tactical — product launch, campaign launch — so their thinking is transactional and lacking in strategic integration. They think in terms of purchases, not investments. They’re the new kid on the block, and they don’t have the trust.”

Well, with a life expectancy in the job of between two and three years, it’s no wonder they don’t have the trust. That’s a corporate culture issue but agencies have an opportunity and a role to play by helping CMOs better understand the ins and outs of customer experience.

And by doing so, they’ll strengthen the client-agency relationship. “You want your CMO to be the CXO [Chief Experience Officer]. Agencies are the natural player in the customer-experience business.”



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