Are Clients Trying to Put Agencies Out of Business?

Disruption has swept over the ad industry like a rogue wave. The changes washed a lot of people out to sea and they continue to threaten the livelihoods of agency workers, in particular.

Did you know that nearly 80 percent of Association of National Advertisers (ANA) members have some form of in-house agency? This is compared to just 58 percent of marketers who took some form of advertising in-house in 2013, and 42 percent in 2008.

That’s a lot of change on both sides of the client-agency table within the past five to ten years.

“The work being done by in-house agencies is no longer confined to ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as collateral/promotional materials and internal videos,” said ANA CEO Bob Liodice.

While marketers are turning increasingly inward — respondents said more than half of the total amount of work (58 percent) is done in-house — the survey also showed that 90 percent still work with external agencies.

The Root of the Problem: Lack of Trust

Bill Duggan, group executive vice president of ANA said the findings “weren’t a huge surprise,” pointing to major client/agency trust issues as the key driver for this increase.

“The reasons for in-housing historically have been cheaper and faster, and nothing has changed,” he said. “Two recent trends that have accelerated in-house agency: transparency/trust and data.

“I believe trust between clients and agencies is at the lowest it’s ever been throughout my career.”

The Rigorous Path Back to the Mountaintop

Duggan and Liodice are on the client’s side. Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s has another agency-friendly point of view.

Agencies need to, quite frankly, step it up and talk about the positive impact they make and the positive business solutions they deliver. I think there’s tremendous value in what agencies bring because of the complexities that exist today.

Agencies are more important and needed than ever to help guide and give that perspective of what’s next and what’s coming. We don’t celebrate enough of those stories.

Bonehook and 99 percent of the agencies in this country do not belong to the 4A’s. We don’t have a spokesperson at an official organization to lobby on our behalf. We must do it ourselves.

Insert Bonehook Case Study (In Miniature)

It’s story time, friends…

Once upon a time, in a western desert not too far from here, Bonehook helped a healthcare and human services company assess a painful operations problem in need of a robust communications solution.

We worked with Danville Services Corporation in Salt Lake City for several years on a “Recruit and Retain” communications plan and the phased rollout of this plan. Danville, like all companies serving people with disabilities, found it hard to find qualified candidates and tough to keep them for more than a year, once hired.

We brought several inter-related solutions forward, including the creation of new collateral materials and a pop-up booth for use at career events. We also automated Danville’s Job Postings made to the company website.

I highlight this relatively simple solution because it showcases how we work. We help the internal marketing and/or creative teams, and we work with people in sales, IT, product development and HR. For Danville, which has multiple offices across four western states, the communications solution had to be shared with and activated by more than half a dozen stakeholders.

There’s no ivory tower anywhere near this, us or the customers we are honored to work closely with on important challenges to their current and future profitability.

Take a Right on Respect Street

I’ve also been seated at the table with clients who lacked trust in our ability to move the needle for them. It can be hard at times to not take their slights personally, although it’s our job to keep the focus on the communications problem(s) before us.

I’ve also worked with plenty of clients who prefer to rewrite and redesign the project at the table, instead of providing legitimate feedback based on the creative brief and letting the talent work it out. It can be maddening, but again, it’s our job to educate and to do that we must be patient and compassionate.

If you’ve ever worked with me, you know how much I care about your business and my own. You also know I am in the room to question, to challenge and to get everyone to think. That’s why my time is valuable and why we command a premium price. It’s also why we get fired, sometimes, and why we choose to walk away at other times.

Be Curious, Adventurous and Prosperous

From our end, critical assessments of a company’s marketing opportunities are always well-intentioned, but the insights and recommendations we bring can cause sparks to fly. It’s human nature to get stuck in one place. We all do it, but in business, stasis is a problem. That’s why we must continually find new ways to break through old patterns (and the people who can help to push us across the finish line).

As the agency, we are professionally obligated to enter the room curious. We know how much there is to learn and we love to learn. We never assume interest. Like respect and trust, we seek to earn it from our own customers and our customers’ customers. Many of our peers spend a lot of time trying to impress prospective customers with how much they know. This is what we know…our customers have unique marketing challenges that our standardized offerings can solve.

It’s not easy to clarify your company’s product or service offering and move people to care, but there are steps we can take. To discuss our Brand Messaging Assessment, Brand Messaging Live Workshops, and/or our Discovery and Strategy Sessions in greater detail, send a note to and we’ll find a good time to talk.

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