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. The main focus of the theory is the relationship between media and audiences. I don’t know if any advertising industry scholars have ever examined or considered a client service dependency theory. I can see how the argument might go.

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.

Fishin'

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.

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 as soon as possible.

The right 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.

By letting our customers off at the dock with a warm greeting, pleasant memories and “a cooler full of fish,” we’re explicitly saying, see ya later. This disrupts the long-term service contract. In its place are project-based engagements with custom information products as outputs. The customer may come back again and again, but it’s not the contract that brings them to the table, it’s need-based and specific.

By acknowledging what clients truly want, we are better able to deliver it. Clients don’t want a long term relationship with us, they want a non-bumpy ride to the promised land, or in our angler’s vernacular, they want to hire a captain and crew to expeditiously deliver them to the hungriest fish in the sea.

You can hire Bonehook to:

  • Provide strategic planning and discovery that will dramatically improve your brand messaging
  • Make your brand come alive via design and writing
  • 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.

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