In the process of writing my book THE AGENCY, I interviewed several brands and discussed what they want from, like and dislike about agencies. Performance aside, here the ten items that came up the most:
1. Flashy slides
When pitching and presenting, flashy slides aren’t something brands like or value. These are slides full of generic stats and quotes that make the slide look like a billboard but don’t say anything about the work you’re going to do for the customer.
Brands want to see relevant and recent case studies, industry benchmarks and the strategies and actions you’re going to take to help them achieve their goals.
2. Customer-Agency attitude
Agencies should invest resources in truly understanding their customers. Brands want agencies to be aware of and familiar with elements of their business that might not be obviously connected with the work that they commissioned. The more agencies understand the customers’ business, their customers, their challenges, margins, stakeholders, history and goals, the more value agencies can bring.
3. Sell with A-stars but deliver with juniors
This happens a lot. During the pitch, the agency introduces the roles: who will do what. Then after a few weeks or months, senior staff on the account are replaced by more junior members. This is not only one of the things brands hate, but is also one of the main reasons brands switch agencies. If we switch people on a customers accounts, we need to inform the customers and provide assurance that quality won’t drop.
4. Overinflated or emphasized wins
During business review meetings, too much noise on small wins raises red flags. Talk about it, but also talk about the mistakes and then move on and focus on the opportunities ahead, on the problems we’re going to solve for the customers.
5. Lack of transparency
Hard to be a real team without transparency. Do you outsource your work to freelancers? Do you use technology to run certain parts of their account? Do you switch staff on accounts? Has a key member of staff involved in the running of the account left? These are things customers should know.
6. Lack of accountability and ownership
When you make a mistake, and we all do, brands want you to own up to that mistake. Missed a deadline? Take responsibility. Is the brand facing a challenge that goes outside your remit? Investigate, make intros, spend time discussing it. Brands hate hearing “it’s not our job” or “it wasn’t our fault”. When you take full ownership of the account and make yourself accountable brands will be more likely to treat you like a valued partner.
7. Finding mistakes
Mistakes aren’t a big issue, everyone makes them. What is an issue is customers finding them before you do. This is when trust gets dented. It pays off to have your work cross-audited and checked by others in your team, or even third parties.
8. Being sold to
Upselling and cross-selling is the easiest way to increase revenue for an agency. Brands hate it though, unless you are solving a problem. Seek to truly understand their business, their goals and challenges even outside of your remit, that way you’re more likely to learn what’s needed to solve their problems. If you have that solution, then bingo. If you don’t, you can make introductions to whom might. The latter can be very beneficial to all: it strengthens the relationship with your customer because you went out of your way to solve a problem, and the provider you recommended will most likely recommend you when an opportunity comes up.
9. Feeling like the small fish
It’s the most annoying thing a customer can be told by a provider: “we have much bigger clients”. It’s infuriating. Often agencies do this to show-off or make themselves look important. But it sucks. If you have bigger customers, your smaller customers know that already. Splashing this in their face only makes them feel small fish. No one likes that, your customers want and deserve to feel important, especially to a supplier.
10. Not being remarkable
If you run an agency, or any business for that matter, you must at the very least believe that you offer something remarkable. If you simply copy what’s already being done, you will probably live a very miserable life, competing on price, spending tonnes on marketing just to make more noise than everybody else, and watching as all the passion is sucked out of your mission.
Instead, strive to create something remarkable, something unique. Strive to create a remarkable experience for your customers and staff.
Brands want us to be a true extension of their teams. So invest time and resources ensuring we become one. When that happens, everyone wins: brands get smart people in their teams, agencies secure loyal and understanding customers who don’t leave. Win win.