Agencies are mirrors and the people who work in them often learn to ‘mirror’ the client’s language, preferences, and standard modes of conduct.
It is natural and sometimes good that bonds are made with members of the client team by “speaking” their same language. It’s not always good, of course. When ad people mirror a client’s toxic behaviors, all sorts of problems begin to manifest back at the agency.
With this in mind, I appreciate what Bill Kolb, the new chairman and chief executive of McCann Worldgroup, has to say about creating agency culture. Shared responsibilities are the heart of his argument.
Here’s a taste from The Drum:
The important thing for clients to remember is that creating agency culture is 50% the agency’s responsibility and 50% the client’s responsibility. We’ve gone through this pandemic and we know that people need breaks. Clients have to realize that people need timeouts. People need the opportunity to walk away and not respond to an e-mail. That isn’t just created by the agency. If the client expects you to cancel a vacation every time something important comes up, that’s not okay.
What I would say to marketers is: you own the culture of the agency as much as the agency does. We need to create an environment where people can be successful without being overwhelmed. This was an issue before the pandemic, but has become very profound during the pandemic. It’s incredibly important that there’s joint ownership and a joint conversation about creating a healthy, progressive environment in which to deliver creativity.
What a great call for common sense and decency. In the agency business, all your assets walk in and out the door (real or virtual) each and every day. There are few hard assets. It’s all about the people. All the time. When the agency’s culture mirrors the toxic cultures of their clients, people work until 9:00 or 10:00 at night, every night, and that’s just the beginning of ‘the service mindset’ gone all wrong.
Ad makers like all creative people need some space to think and to work. When you jam their days full of Slack messages, meeting requests, emails, and project management updates, you’re also removing the very space needed to make things that are worth making.
The Internet is always on but the people who make the Internet what it is, need some rest. Productivity is a dangerous cult in corporate circles, thus it is a dangerous cult in agency circles. A forced busyness is not productive for anyone and it’s horrid for the people working to make something new and remarkable.
Agency Hand-Holders Could Use A Sanitizer
When a client doesn’t concern itself with the health and well-being of the agency’s staff, it’s as bad as not caring if the agency is profitable on the account. For some agency leaders today, it’s also a deal-breaker. Some, but not enough. Agencies that cater to their clients every whim and desire continue to pollute the waters, and some of the top players in the ad game do this.
I see the business quite a bit differently than the hand-holders see things. I see the best agencies delivering brand-building ideas that can be worth tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars to the client, over time. As empowered makers of brand value that creates immense wealth, the agency and its team members have no reason whatsoever to be subservient, or in any way unequal to the client.
Clients love to think and sometimes say, “It’s our money.” It is their money and the smart ones know to use that money to buy what they can never make on their own—strategic ideas that are brilliantly communicated for the benefit and delight of their customers.