Are Marketing Agencies are Full of Yes Men?

Are Marketing Agencies are Full of Yes Men?

Marketing agencies and the agency landscape have never seemed more confused.  

Just look at how agencies label themselves. Are you a digital agency, a PR agency or maybe an influencer agency? Do you provide content marketing or inbound marketing? Search marketing or SEO. Perhaps you’re a digital advertising shop but only work on Google Ads.

Maybe you do a bit of everything? 

And confused about how to grow. 

Should you specialise on a service or an industry? Maybe you should be a full-service agency looking after a broad market. 

Should you ‘productise’ or provide a bespoke service. 

Client-side marketers are in a state of flux too.

Brands are taking things in-house or appointing a management consultancy to provide marketing via their newly acquired creative shop. They’re also building their own marketing agencies. Great. More competition in an already busy market. 

Why is this? What’s causing this change? 

You could point to tech innovation. It’s no secret social media and martech are transforming the marketing business, creating opportunities and threats you couldn’t have imagined 20 years ago. 

What about the lack of transparency around how reach is procured – especially in the shady worlds of programmatic advertising and influencer marketing. Do client-side marketers trust agencies any more?

Or maybe it’s those pesky millennials; they just don’t buy what we’re selling. They want to save the planet, travel the World and be the boss, all while live streaming their lunch on Snapchat.

Or perhaps it’s because brands no longer just make great cars, or drinks or running shoes. They must all be media companies too.

All of these are important factors.

But for me, the number one reason is agencies no longer add enough value. 

In a rush to grow and acquire new clients, agencies have become accustomed to merely saying ‘yes, we can do that’. It’s easier to earn fees in the short term that way, rather than questioning your client’s strategy and marketing plan.

As an industry, we are moving from “Mad Men to Yes Men” (according to agency biz dev veteran and consultant Lena Robinson.)  

When I started in PR almost 20 years ago, our clients paid for strategic counsel as well as our ability to execute. We delivered consultancy that helped them make a difference.

Fast forward 20 years, and it seems many agencies are providing less strategic value and are simply getting things done. 

We’ve become an industry of ‘yes men’; desperate to please our clients’ ever-evolving list of demands in order to retain their business and fees. 

When what we should really be doing is growing a pair. Sorry ladies, I have no idea what the equivalent female metaphor is here.

Our value is being eroded by scrapping for work to cover the payroll. We’re selling strategy, and high value add, but we’re delivering tactical execution. Just getting stuff done. 

It’s easy to do when you’re farming a large account. You start out advising on a lead generation strategy and end up running a roadshow.  

And guess what. At that end of the market, you’re easily replaceable. Clients can shop around on price. 

It’s time for a change. It’s time to stop saying ‘Yes’ and to start saying ‘Why?’ 

Why do you want to make a ‘viral’? What’s the strategic objective?

Why should you spend half your budget on influencers? You don’t have a product yet. (See Fyre Festival for how this ends up). 

Why should you fire the PPC specialist? They’re only just getting started after six weeks.

And that’s when you start adding more value, making a bigger impact and earning higher fees. Oh, and you become harder to replace too.

But you have to be confident asking ‘Why?’ and standing up for your point of view.

The next time your client asks you to do something dumb, be brave. Ask ‘Why?’ and be prepared to fight your corner. Agency staffers have brilliant minds and fantastic creative skills, so let’s remember what it means to be brave. 

If you’d like to meet other brave agency owners and senior leaders, join our Agency Squared tribe on Facebook. It’s a community of your peers; a tribe of the bold and the brave.

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