The agency business is a service business that outputs communications products.
To make something great, to make communications that are capable of changing the course of a company, you need to first earn the trust of the client. If you skip this part, you’ll be forever stuck in the milquetoast middle ground, turning in work that meets the client’s technical specs, but fails to interest her customers.
Growing up in this business, we learn to “service” accounts, which means we will do almost anything for them. Over time we go from a reliable vendor to a trusted partner. We seek longevity and often brag about how long we’ve held an account. Because our clients trust us and it shows in the work.
I was on this page for many years. Long enough to know that the model is rusty and in need of some repair. Let’s begin the deconstruction with client wishes versus agency wishes. Agencies want to earn trust and spend many years servicing the account. It sounds reasonable enough, but what do clients want? Do they also seek to establish the kind of trust that opens the door to breakthrough work and extended multi-year contracts? That’s wishful thinking. Clients almost always look past the agency to their true desire, which is more and better customers spending more money on their products.
The agency is the vehicle that can deliver them to said promised land, and for that, we get a grateful nod and a wad of cash at the end of the ride. And there’s nothing wrong with this math. What’s wrong is failing to see it for what it is.
Bonehook Gives Marketers What They Want: More and Better Customers
By acknowledging what clients truly want, we are better able to deliver it. Clients don’t want a longterm relationship with us or any agency, they want a non-bumpy ride to the promised land, or in Bonehook vernacular, they want to hire a captain and crew to expeditiously deliver them to the hungriest fish in the sea.
Our customers—and that’s precisely what clients are—want to catch more and better fish. The more an agency successfully enables this action, the happier customers become, because their intended outcomes are being met. They didn’t get on board the agency vessel to develop trust with the captain and crew. The trust that is developed comes as a result of a good day, or days, at sea.
A good day, or days, at sea may indeed lead to several more charters with the same customer, along with a stream of recommendations. As it should. My point is to acknowledge our need to reframe the agency/client service relationship so it meets our customer’s needs. To stay with the nautical theme, it’s critical to know that the charter ends at the dock. It can start again on another day but the captain’s job is to get the customers back on dry land, safe, happy, and richer for the journey.
Dependency Theory and Client Service
Scholars in the 1970s developed a media dependency theory to help explain and understand the effects of mass media on audiences and of the interactions between media, audiences, and social systems. I don’t know if any advertising industry scholars have examined or considered a client service dependency theory. I can see the need for it.
The ad industry has always been dependent. Our first dependency was on media, newspapers in particular. This media dependency is alive and unwell today. One might assume that digital disruption broke this bond, but it did not. Now, we’re playing the platforms game instead of pursuing the “every company is a media company” high road. When Facebook falls from its perch, as companies sometimes do, what then? Then your agency’s media dependency, which is unwisely shared with your clients, is a stinky egg mess on your otherwise attractive face.
Agency operators have media dependencies on one hand, and client dependencies on the other. By holding on to clients for a long duration, it may lessen the need for a perfected new business process, although an agency is always on the hunt for new business, whatever the guiding philosophy of the founders.
By letting Bonehook customers (formerly known as clients) off at the dock with a warm greeting, pleasant memories and a cooler full of fish, I am explicitly saying, “see you later.” This takes the long-term service contract and shreds it. In its place are project-based engagements with custom information products as outputs.
You can hire Bonehook to provide strategic mapping and discovery that will dramatically improve your brand messaging. You can hire us to make your brand come alive via design and writing. You can hire us to deliver live skill-building workshops. You can hire us to provide all of the above.
Whichever form future projects take, we will help you navigate stormy waters and help you understand your brand from your customer’s point of view. This process is called “thinking like a fish,” and it’s been proven to work by many an old man in the sea.