All Agencies are Eating off the Same Plate

You know those budget holders within existing client businesses that you don’t work with but are desperate to get your hooks into?

It’s those people who are really your client.

One of the founders I work with recently lost a six figure account apparently out of the blue. They were told their work wasn’t on brand and their direct client had been told not to use them any longer. This agency leader was puzzled because they had specifically made the effort to get each piece of work cleared by their client’s lead agency. Take note, that part is important.

Not only had they had sign-off, but the work had been waved through and they were encouraged to “push the boundaries” of what the brand look & feel could do.

It turns out that the branding agency – part of a larger group of agencies – was then grumbling to the CMO that my client’s agency simply wouldn’t stick to the rules. Over time, and unbeknown to my client, they had developed a reputation for doing work that didn’t stick to the guidelines. By the time the budget holder was told to cut the strings, their reputation was in tatters with no chance of a case being made for defending their work.

Spoiler alert:

The new agency appointed to do the work my client had lost? You got it, a sister company of the branding agency.

My client had been utterly out-manoeuvred, or to use the more colloquial term, shafted. There are so many things to unpack here: why hadn’t my client got beyond their budget holder and deeper into the client’s organisation? Why had warning bells not rung sooner? Why did they trust a rival agency? It’s that final point I want to focus on.

In effect, all agencies are eating off the same marketing plate.

I write this not as a scaremongering article, rather to highlight the obvious – yet often forgotten fact that budget within any brand is ultimately finite, but it can be fluid. It can move between agencies or even to new agencies eager to get their noses into the trough. All agencies know this and they (should) be making great efforts to secure as much of that budget as they can. Not by shafting the other agencies, but by matching their solutions to clients’ problems and by building a reputation for excellence.

But the fact is that to a greater or lesser extent, and in a more or less fair manner, all agencies are looking to expand their influence with a client to secure more of the budget. Some play nice, some play smart and some play nasty. There are a hundred ways to do it legitimately and a hundred variants on each of those.

So when you sit in your annual budget meetings and you slap in a stretch target for your client service teams, and you give them upsell and cross-sell targets, know that every other agency working with that brand (and many many who aren’t yet working with that brand) will be doing the same. Your cash cow, your contact who ‘would never drop you, we’re that close’ is being targeted.

Bear in mind that many agencies will be doing this more aggressively, more effectively, more remorselessly and with more budget and more consistency than you. They won’t be leaving client planning until next month because ‘they’re a bit busy on the urgent stuff’. They won’t focus all their attention on their day-to-day contact, or the budget holder or give up when their contact’s boss won’t see them. They’ll find a reason to make the boss want to talk with them. And ultimately, it won’t come as a surprise when their long-standing, top five revenue client simply stops working with them – they will have been fighting tooth and nail for months or years to protect their relationships and understand where the threats might be coming from.

It’s not too late to get back on top of this. You can start client planning now. And thankfully it wasn’t too late for my client in this specific case. In fact, they managed to get back in with their client and are now developing a healthy relationship across the company with the help of their contact.

So what’s the key take away here?

  • You’re client is another agency’s cross sell and upsell and they really want it
  • Having a wider reach across your client organisations is not just about clawing more budget, there is a defensive reason for reaching out
  • Only you can control your reputation – but you have to work hard to do so

I do lots of work with my clients around client planning, ABM, client services, relationship management and putting the client at the centre of their businesses. If you want to pick my brains on this, I’ll happily help.

If this sort of article – a reminder of the nuances in business – is something you found useful, then please do sign up to my bi weekly email, Rambling On. 

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