CREATIVE AGENCY: PARTNER OR VENDOR?
The short answer is you get out of it what you put into it. That goes for ANY relationship whether it is business or personal. Some agencies are built on volume which naturally lean them towards the supplier side of the industry while others go the route of craft beer — they aim to please at a narrow window of customers, and please they do.
We've been lucky enough to have leaders in our company who have been on both sides of the fence and can be objective about what they dislike in agencies. Here are a few of the top pet peeves:
The hierarchical pricing structure. Agencies will often use junior designers on your project which necessitates a Sr. Designer to overlook the work before it goes to the Creative Director. That's 3-line items on your invoice for one design...ugh! Why? Two reasons, 1) It's cheap to get young talent, and 2) You can place a large margin on that talent and it is easily explainable as part of the creative value-chain. "You see, Tim did the work here but we always quality check it with a Senior Designer making sure the techniques meet your expectations before going to the Creative Director who ensures it fits in with the entire brand and/or campaign." That's one expensive graphic.
Lack of Industry knowledge. Granted, all agencies cannot know all industries, but what they can control is their ability to learn it. This ability to learn gives a fresh perspective and the creative usually isn't tainted by years in the industry. However, imagine hiring an agency to do a campaign about 5G cellular and they come to the table completely unaware of environmental impacts, studies about 5G and its impacts to insects and wildlife etc. They simply reuse a previous idea they had in a different industry to save time as they have multiple projects going on. This is a HUGE turn-off. Frankly, it's the one thing that gives the industry a black eye.
Time is money. Imagine you have an idea or concept for your next campaign but want advice on its viability prior to presenting it to senior leadership. You send an email or call your agency on retainer. GUARANTEED they will charge for time spent on this detail. Usually in 15-minute increments. All you wanted was some advice but what you received in return was a charge on your next invoice. The other little unknown here is price increases without notification. If you start comparing invoices, you will see upticks in charges for the same items of work. This is not only unethical, but it should also be an instant firing of your agency.
Lack of new ideas. This one is tricky because money is involved. What we will say is that an agency that constantly peppers you with new ideas is a good thing. They always aren't looking for new revenue but rather a sincere way to push your brand forward. The downside risk for the agency is that the client likes it but doesn't have the budget for it and then they take the idea and execute it in-house. There is no recourse for that other than knowing the relationship is a bad fit for both involved.
Balance is the key to a successful agency relationship. Do both companies balance each other out? Is there mutual trust, can you disagree correctly with each other? This last point is crucial. There will come a time with both parties will ultimately disagree as both are truly vested in the outcome. We had one such incident with a former partner who wanted an "out of the box" advertisement campaign for a new product launch. We dug deep into this product as well as the current industry ads, demographics, and trends. The campaign we decided upon we called: Marilyn. After Marilyn Monroe in the Seven Year Itch. The CEO at the time was extremely hesitant about it as it was far outside the normal industry ads. Eventually, it was green lighted. This campaign won multiple awards for creativity and was very well received by the target demographic.
At the end of the day, you cannot do it all for your brand. You WILL need help to think outside the box, to push your brand forward, to think about things you knew but have forgotten. The question is, which type of relationship do you want? A one-sided vendor relationship or something more? If the latter, like everything else in life you will have to go through some bad fits before you find the right fit. It will be work, but everything great in life requires work.
Like we said, you get out of it what you put into it. Best of luck!