Commentary

Why Advertisers Should Care About Agency Scope

Are you an advertiser? Do you have an agency or agencies? Then I am going to venture that you are often your own worst enemy, standing in the way of a smooth, integrated, and well-functioning agency-client relationship.

I know you probably think otherwise. And for a small percentage of you, it is possibly true that your agency is no longer the right partner for you. That’s typically the case when your requirements or business has moved from its original position to something quite different. But for most, it’s not them, it is you.

A recent global study revealed that most agencies struggle with issues like changing client expectations during a project, scope-creep, and a desire to over-service. Let’s unpack these three and examine how and where you — the advertiser — are probably at fault and are doing damage to your own business. I can share insights here based on personal experience: I have been both an agency/consultant as well as a client. I promise you I have been guilty on both sides of the fence, just like you.

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Let’s start with changing client expectations during a project. In my experience, this typically happens because of poor communications. Either the brief was not clear, or the people delivering the brief are not clear themselves because they have received poor instruction from their leadership.

I have seen agency presentations being given to senior leaders where it quickly became apparent that what was presented was not at all what the advertisers expected. Or there is a halfway check-in, and the client concludes that what needs to be delivered is quite different from where the agency has gone. Now they need to course-correct and redo the work in less time than was originally planned, because half the time was spent on the wrong direction.

As you know, agencies are service providers. And times are lean, relationships are fickle and marketers are promiscuous. All this means that agencies tend to take a deep breath and deliver what is needed on the clarified or revised expectations. So they overservice and somehow absorb the hours needed to do so. That is one of the main sources of scope-creep and is disastrous for agency profitability.

I study agency scopes, contracts, deliverables, and work-processes for a living. I can promise you that most agencies learn which of their clients are the worst offenders. Over time, they start padding their scopes and timelines to compensate for your disfunction. 

How can you tell if your agency is doing this? Well, if your agency typically absorbs and addresses your changes and redirection without talking about “out of scope” or “having run out of hours”, they have accommodated for your poorly managed instruction process. Over time, this can lead to agency teams that are less motivated and also burned out. 

The relationship between marketers and agencies need to be understood as a business one. Agencies need to be much more upfront about the fact that what they are selling is the time of highly talented people. They must do a better job at predicting the time requirement needed to manage a client when developing a client scope. You would think that modern technology can help with that.

But clients also need to do better, as that is in their best interest. Having the right agency resources who are motivated and set up for success is far more productive than a lethargic or burnt-out agency team.

1 comment about "Why Advertisers Should Care About Agency Scope".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, July 27, 2020 at 12:32 p.m.

    Good one, Maarten. I, too, have seen many situations for both existing as well as might be clients where the problem was at the advertiser  not the agency level. That's why, savvy agencies in the past developed special communications links with client top management, where presidents mixed with presidents and, often the agencies got things sorted out in this manner. But that was in the old days---I'm not so sure that it still applies today in the era of bloated advertiser and agemcy monoliths.

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