I hear a lot of account folks, creative people and planning/strategists talk about what they desire in an agency-client relationship these days. All agree that they want the agency to be valued, their points of view listened to, and a “partnership” with their clients. These are all fine things to desire and worthy to pursue for long-term success. But I think these desired states in a relationship need to be achieved by doing something more than just declaring or assuming the typical agency-client relationship.
In the future-oriented movie based on the work of Isaac Asimov’s short-story collection I, Robot, the main character, detective Del Spooner (played by Will Smith), must answer Dr. Alfred Lanning’s “right questions” to begin to unravel Dr. Lanning’s murder and save the future of humanity.
Well, I would never begin to think that advertising is really as important as saving humanity. But I do feel that working with clients can be wonderful if we, the agency set, really work hard to set up the right relationship. This really starts with asking a real, fundamental question, or better yet, asking a real, fundamental question that really goes beyond just making and doing stuff (which we tend to believe is how agencies derive value).
According to all great innovators these days (Google, Apple, Facebook), including the innovation firm IDEO, asking the How Might We question can equally apply to agencies — in particular our agency, which is built to be a full-service marketing agency for the digital and social age.
So let’s break this down in regard to agencies and their work with clients these days.
How implies no bias in the type of thinking or ideas that the agency brings to the table. Our solution could be a TV spot, a microsite or Facebook page, but it needs to be deeper and better than that. It also implies that the agency’s thinking is in problem-solving mode, which is critical to what clients need today and tomorrow — less theory, more action.
Might looks forward and seeks innovation. It makes the logical assumption that the solutions we seek are new, different and unique to the client’s problem that needs to be solved. This enables the agency to bring to bear all the creativity and technology needed to allow consumers to act, interact and be an active part of a brand.
We implies a team solution, with our clients as a very active part of the thinking. Great agencies can no longer go off for weeks to divine a great idea in a vacuum alone. We also demands the best thinking from all aspects of an agency: strategists, creative types, IA/UX, programmers, community managers, analytics, PR and account folks. We is how a client gets the best of an agency these days.
So, asking the right key question of a client — in an assignment, as you work together in your annual planning sessions, or just calling a time out every now and then — will set a client team up for achieving measured success. How Might We unlocks a future state of what is possible versus what’s been done before. It unlocks thinking, presses forward to solutions, and demands critical thinking about an ever-changing marketplace and an empowered consumer.