An open discussion – in two parts
Part 1: How to be a great customer – or better.
Part 2: How to become a great agency partner – or better.
(As a reminder, we have delayed the release of this part 1b of our interview with agency executives due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. As we hit “Publish” now, we are keeping that in mind and keeping the people of Ukraine, namely those who in our minds would choose peace in Russia.)
Part 1 continued:
It’s hard to be a good customer. Very difficult. The pressure is real and numerous.
For similar and different reasons, being a good agency is equally difficult. Under the best of circumstances, ideas don’t find an easy path from conception to execution. Some of the same internal and external forces that help ensure the CMO has the shortest tenure of the C-suite may conspire to almost obscure them from where and what they started. The children’s game “telephone” serves as an apt metaphor.
But when the client and agency aren’t aligned, working together and collaborating, it really is something of a miracle to get good work (not to mention great work).
While I’ll shortly dive into the perspective of this relationship and the journey to great work from a CMO perspective, my conversations with 8 brilliant agency leaders, each offering their POV on what it takes to be and get a good client great work, continue now. if you missed it Part 1a is here.
As a reminder, I asked everyone a version of the same questions and grouped them into four. Today we’re looking at the latter two, after covering the first two last week.
1. What makes a good customer; the kind that helps make great work possible?
2. What do clients sometimes do/don’t do that can undo great work – right from the start or during the process?
3. What is an agency’s responsibility when it comes to helping a client do a great job?
4. What advice do you have for your next great customer to be a great customer?
What follows brings together conversations that were held separately. (Full disclosure again: Up until December, while still at Endeavor, I was a colleague of Nick Phelps, one of the executives interviewed here.) Some responses have been edited slightly for brevity and/or clarity. In alphabetical order, here’s some of what they shared:
Part 1(b): How to be a great customer. Or a better one.
“Have big ambitions” – Karina Wilshire, Partner and Global CEO, Anomaly
Seth Matlins: What is an agency’s responsibility when it comes to helping a client do a great job?
Kristen Cavallo, CEO, The Martin Agency: To foster trust and partnership – be accountable. Believe the brand or product has something interesting to say and have a clear view of how brands are growing today.
Glenn Cole, CCO, 72 and Sunny: Just as a great CMO needs to study and understand the value of creativity, a great agency needs to be curious about what drives their partners’ commerce and care about the very specific dynamics of that person, brand, product, and audience.
We need to know what would prevent a transformative idea from penetrating the customer’s system. Successful agencies understand this landscape and help their clients move them through the system.
Jason Harris, Co-Founder, Mechanism: Rely on ingenuity – on both sides. The CMO’s job is really tough, he has to think short-term and long-term. We have to assume that the customer knows their business and that we do ours.
Although I’m afraid it’s cliché, mutual respect is the basis of good cooperation. We must demonstrate ours while asking for theirs.
Rachel Mercer, Co-Founder and CXO, Proto: Agency partners need to have a better filter and focus. It’s something we’ve lost in the last ten years. We’ve become contractors, lost prioritization (because we) feel like we need to act on all feedback. But not all feedback is the same. It is our responsibility to help the customer focus.
Nick Phelps: EVP and Head of Client Service, 160 over 90: We need to understand their business, their pressures, their constraints, their goals – their mission. Our responsibility is to ensure the work engages the client’s audience, and then to deliver the work in a way that gets noticed.
Jimmy Smith: Co-Founder, CEO and CCO, Amusement Park Entertainment: I have yet to crack this code, but I’m still trying. What we do is extremely tough. You need to build a relationship where customers trust you, which not every customer can do.
You need to understand where your client is in their career lifecycle. Are you willing to take a risk? If not, then coming in with a risky idea is a waste of time. Do they want to do something big that will catapult them to their next job, or do something safe that will see them into retirement?
Derek Walker: Creative and Owner, Brown and Browner: Our first task is to protect the customer from the customer. It’s up to an agency to try and slow them down. Deadlines are often man-made. We have convinced people (we have) to travel at the speed of light. Why? How does this serve the work, the result or the customer?
Karina Wilsher: Partner and Global CEO, Anomaly: It’s amazingly common not to have a discussion or vote at this moment about what great work is and what it means to a person (CMO). You need that.
A great agency should hold itself accountable for great work and accountable for performance and KPI. We need to help customers have confidence that our work will work and take all actions that create a common skin feel in the game.
Matlins: What advice do you have for your next great customer to be a great customer?
cavallo: Ads are seen by everyone, but not everyone is capable of creating memorable ads. that is why so many fail to attract or hold our attention. Respect the discipline. Study great marketing and marketers. Set big goals for your team and your agency. Don’t be nervous about being talked about – strive for impact.
Cabbage: To go from good to great you must be a student of creativity and the creative process.
The best CMOs understand the value of ideas and know that ideas thrive, or only when conditions allow. Create the ones that encourage, not limit, an idea’s potential.
Harris: let us in When things go wrong and right. The more information an agency has, the better they will be partners. Don’t protect the agency because you’re worried about muddying the waters.
We are problem solvers, but only if we understand the problem.
mercer: Spend time listening before you act. Knowing what works, what doesn’t and why. Make it clear what you want and what we could do differently.
Sometimes (new customers) throw history aside, wiping the slate clean, when a lot of great traditions and insights live in your brand’s work and just need to be tapped into.
Phelps: caring passionate. You only get one career, one chance to do great things. Make a commitment not to be average. Don’t try to do what you did last year, plus or minus 5%.
Recognize great work when you see it. Have the commitment, competence and clarity to know what makes it great and keep that in mind when there are 100 different voices that make you doubt and overthink and forget.
Blacksmith: Stop hiring the same nut (expletive deleted). You always hire the same people, you will always get the same results. You will continue to produce the same type of generic work because you go into the same types of cultures.
Look for the creatives to take care of it. Those who are passionate about creativity and selling your product; about the brand. Those who want to do a job that helps. When you’re just getting “okay,” they try to give you what they think you want. It’s your job as the CMO, but I think you want people willing to respectfully disagree. Let her.
walker: There is no formula for getting great creativity. What makes a great song? It’s about who sings the song and produces the work. The best ideas need a chance to grow and be nurtured.
Address your fear, actually go straight to the fear. At the end of every transaction there is a person who is afraid of something. Losing the job, losing status, failing. You can be afraid, but you cannot be controlled by fear. Have the courage to stand up for your beliefs.
Wilscher: I once had a client whose email signature said, “The client gets the work they deserve.” It was so electrifying and reinforced a common purpose. Do this. Have big ambitions. Don’t think incrementally. Demand a lot from your agency and then make sure they are rewarded for their true worth.
Be ready to shatter the traditional definition of “creativity”. Think deeply about what creativity means and how it is applied. Sign up to do something truly remarkable together.
end of part 1
As we wrap up our conversation through next week, when we hear the CMO’s perspective on how to be a great agency partner, we reiterate that there are common words, themes, experiences, and recommendations that all clients and agencies would do well to consider and, we hope, to discuss with one another. A big thank you to the executives who were willing to talk to us about it.
As I have told my children, (we) cannot solve a problem if (we) do not know what it is.
Back with the CMO POV shortly, until then let me know what you think here.