How Not To Sound Like A Lightweight In Front Of Your Agency

This is the Article of Secrets. If you are brand-side — aka, "client” — your agency does talk about you when they leave the room.

If you’re not in a holding-company arranged-marriage-type relationship, but a relationship with people who need to occasionally work together, these are some of the things you say that let agencies know where you are on the positioning ladders in our respective heads.

Mostly we’re listening to the top person(s) in the room, but 9s hire 8s, 8’s hire 7s, and so on and so on (10 is an urban myth).

Here’s what not to say:

1. “We are/want to be the Apple of __ [client sector goes here].”   The inspiration for this statement is appreciated, in that it is east/west-type creative direction. But Apple’s been a lot of things over time, and can only be today because of what it was yesterday. Don’t say this unless you can add a few sentences about why your internal equities substantiate that position, what historical Apple you want to be, and what you’re willing to sacrifice to get there.

2. “We love what you did for__[insert some work they showed you], but just want a few changes.” Like make the logo bigger and add a bunch of call to actions? If you love it, you likely love it because it’s beautiful, powerful and communicates subconsciously. Again, we’re talking about brand expression. Does anyone do that anymore?

3. “ROI.” ROI, one of the most maligned terms in the history of marketing. Current marketers say “These are our KPIs.” Key performance indicators are the metrics by which strategy and execution are judged, presumably the metrics that have been isolated by the client as critical to driving business. Agencies should be asking about KPI prioritization. If they’re not asking, you may be the one dealing with lightweights.

4. “We called you in today because we need __ [insert tactic here].” There’s a lot of colorful flags here. One, you’ve just called your agency a tool, and reinforced their suspicion that they are not a trusted partner. If they were, they’d know you need an X, and they might have even proactively suggested a Y instead.

It also tells your agency you haven’t been sharing intel, pain, or truth.

Speaking of tools, cogs, or transactional byproducts, if you delivered this statement, you may have perceived it as power, but it made you look like you were delivering orders that you, yourself did not originate (lightweight!).

Certainly, there are lots of people in many positions in agency/client symbiosis, and no juncture is perfect. Asterisks everywhere. But what you say becomes who you are. So whatever you say, say it with the gravitas of your long-term career in mind.

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