As a small but ambitious agency, this is a cliche we face all too regularly.
On the one hand, we’ve created a culture that everyone here can be proud of. Along the way we’ve tried very hard to challenge the how our industry goes about its business. Not because we’re trying to be contrarian, but because we honestly feel that so much of it is broken. Charging based on hours, not outcomes, giving away ideas and thinking to win the right to execute, telling clients what they want to hear instead of frank and meaningful dialogue; the list goes on and on.
On the other hand, change often takes two: those who initiate the change and those who accept it. We find ourselves having to do a lot of educating when we meet with new or prospective clients. In essence, peeling back the layers of what has gone on before us and trying to reveal a new, better way of working together. Clients get set in their ways, too. In a new business process we can quickly find ourselves a square peg when the client (or consultant) is trying to line up and evaluate a lot of round holes.
There’s a fine line between standing apart and becoming odd man out.
And here we find ourselves face to face with the quote above. Every time a prospective client asks us to present spec creative or give them blended rate sheets or provide a comprehensive strategic solution and full up media plan, despite having only known them for a couple of weeks, we tell them no. And in doing so, risk being thrown out on our ear.
In fact, sometimes we are.
In which case we know it wouldn’t have been a good fit anyway because we’re looking for open-minded clients willing to embrace change and explore what’s new. Yes, not compromising can (and has) cost us money. But the alternative is to begin a relationship based on artifical reality, which is never a good idea since it causes the work to suffer, morale to suffer and can lead to a frustrated client and agency. Which is why they conducted the original review in the first place.
Increasingly, however, our “no’s” are being followed by “why not?”. For those clients who ask, and listen, we have a great story to tell. One that usually resonates once they let their guard down and open up about their process. It’s a chance for us to get to know them better and for them to do the same. It also begins to establish the honesty and trust so vital for long-term relationships.
You can win for the right reasons and you can lose for the right reasons. And those reasons have to do with staying true to who you are as an agency and what you stand for. Because at the end of the day, that’s really the only thing that separates you from everyone else.
If that’s not worth standing your ground for then I don’t know what is.