The following is a piece written by Gellan Watt for The Drum’s Marketing Mechanics section, 20th November 2009.

Dear client
It’s not very often that we, on agency side, get to say what we really think to our clients without them thinking we’re trying to sell them something. And understandably so, I suppose. Selling is what we’re all about. But I am going to lap up this opportunity to share a few golden nuggets.

So, here goes. Let’s hope that I don’t annoy anyone.

Dear client, I am writing today to talk about pitches.
Over the years, I’ve been involved in literally hundreds. The ones that yield the best outcomes though, are the result of a very professional process. In all that time, I’ve never witnessed a pitching process that created a successful campaign and long-term relationship where more than four agencies are involved.

On the other side of the fence we understand the temptation to get as many agencies as possible to throw ideas in. The more ideas you get, the better. You feel like a kid in a sweet shop.

But in reality, you have to know a little secret about us agencies… we’re not sitting around twiddling our thumbs. Well, some are, but they’re definitely NOT the agencies you want to pitch for your account. An agency with too much time on their hands, is an agency in trouble.

So when an invitation to pitch comes in, if the odds are long, often that narrows the effort given to creating speculative work. It certainly does at Thinking Juice. We never pitch against more than two or three agencies. I think it’s a sure sign that the client doesn’t know what they really want if they have to ask more than that to pitch. And that scares me.

You can drive value from the process by ensuring you invest a good chunk of time researching potential agencies, or by using an organization such as RAR. Put together a long list of 5 to 10 agencies. Get their credentials and have chemistry meetings with them. Find out about them, who’s who and how they solve problems. Having invested time in getting to know the agencies properly, you can have confidence in their recommendations, creativity and strategic thinking. And in turn, you give everyone on your agency shortlist the confidence to throw everything they have at the opportunity. And you never know, through the creds process, you may just meet your perfect agency partner, and not need to go through the pain of a full pitch.

What you really want is all the agencies coming back to you with ideas that are created to meet your business objectives, not just to win your business. Give your agency the confidence to pitch what they really believe, by demonstrating a clear and professional approach to conducting a pitch.

If you have a small budget though, try and find an agency through credentials, references and chemistry meetings. But if your budget justifies a pitch, go for it. Enjoy the process, brief well, allow a fair amount of time and treat the agencies fairly. We ask for nothing more than a fair opportunity. We know ideas level playing fields, and pitches give good agencies a chance to shine. Which is what we all want.

Dear client, I am writing today to talk about London.
London’s brilliant. It’s so good that the Queen even has a house there. There’s always something to do in the capital. And there’s some great agency brands there too. And if you take security in wearing Prada, you’re sure to feel reassured by your agency, if they have a W1 postcode. If they’ve got that, they must be good. Right?

Wrong. Of course, there’s some great work being done in town. There’s bags of great talent and amazing ideas. I’ve worked there, as have a huge percentage of the agency workforce outside of London also. But there’s some crap too. And little understanding of what it is to work under real budgetary pressure. Try getting a London agency to create a campaign to work offline, on TV, in-store, online, in the street and in the blogosphere for less than £500k. That’s their creative fee. Excluding expenses. And lunch.

In the regions we know how to make a budget work hard. We have to. We either sell, or die. Any budget is a great budget to a regional agency if the client is ambitious and open-minded. We thrive on the challenge of delivering true measurable performance, turning challengers into leaders. And while some of the UK’s biggest, and most successful brands are managed in the regions, too many clients still look straight to London for answers.

The regions are riddled with talented creative agencies (with great strategic leaders) that stand ready to create campaigns with impact, that make them famous by making you famous – not through stand-out creativity alone. Through stand-out results. If you want lunch at The Ivy, search for ‘Ad Agency + W1’ in Google. But if you want more bang for your buck and an agency that MUST make your budget work, I’d keep my budget closer to home if I were you.

Dear client, I am writing today to talk about brands.
This is my favourite subject. When I was a boy (in fact I was still in my 20s until I worked this out properly) my father used to talk to me as if he were a branding consultant. I think he’d have been a really good one as well. But our industry’s loss, was another’s gain.

I was a bit (very) wayward. And when I used to stand before him, saying my routine ‘it wasn’t me’, ‘I wouldn’t have’, or ‘you never believe me’ he always used to say “it’s not what you say, Gellan, that tells me anything about you. It’s what you do. Your actions are deafening.” Today, that advice makes up the basis for all Thinking Juice’s brand consultancy. Actions not words. Behaviour matters as much, if not more, than message. Message can be hollow. But behaviour is real.

There’s some great books on the subject and may I take this opportunity to suggest some essential reading, so we can have an open and informed debate about your brand moving forward. Books by Marty Neumeier are always worth a read. Pick up ‘Zag’ and ‘The Brand Gap’. Great speed-read whiteboard style books on the topic. On brand strategy check out ‘Eating the Big Fish’, and Innocent’s ‘A book about Innocent’. Also, try reading ‘Juicing the Orange’ – a great book about the power of ideas.

Brands are personalities. And to create a powerful, compelling brand it’s vital that we all understand what brands are and what they’re not. You may be one of the great clients that ‘gets it’. But if not, you’ll get more out of your brand through a bit of quality reading on the subject. It’s no black art.

Dear client, one last thing.
Great clients are those that let their agencies get under the skin of their business and brand. They work closely with their agency. They know that longevity pays off.  And an agency that lives in fear gives the client what they want to see, not what’s right to solve the challenge. That’s not to say we want it easy. Accountability is what keeps an agency on its toes. But trust, openness and confidence are the key to the client/agency relationship, as with any other.

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