We received the latest edition of AdAge today in our P.O. Box and I read with interest the article “Fed-Up Shops Pitch a Fit at Procurement.” A little while ago I wrote a post about how law firms were standing up for themselves and saying “if you want to pay less, that’s fine, then just don’t expect the top tier of our talent.” It appears that agencies are starting to do the same in negotiations with potential clients during the pitch phase. According to AdAge, The watch word between agencies after these budget sessions with procurement people is “don’t cave.” As the AdAge article mentions agencies (though, from the deals they sign to close a piece of business you’d never know it) are in this business to make a profits just as much as our clients are. We don’t expect them to sell their products at a loss, they should not expect us to do it either. If we don’t value our services and charge valuable rates, our clients won’t value them either.
We may not be saving lives here — though sometimes our work does, tangentially — but we are professionals who bring know-how, years of experience and insight to issues, problems, trends and best practices around marketing and communications. We are not a commodity, nor are our services. If clients, large and small, want to regard advertising and marketing in a commodotized fashion, then I say let them — and let them work with folks who regard it the same way. Get back to me when you see the results. In my experience the jobs that go worst are the jobs in which someone has decided to meet a potential client’s budget expectations rather than sell the best program for the client’s business needs. Stooping to make the sale is a recipe for disaster that sets the wrong tone from the get-go. It’s an incredible misjudgment on the part of the sales force. If you undersell yourself at the start in the hopes of raising your rates and gaining money back down the line, “fugghedaboutit,” as they used to say in Carroll Gardens.
Last week I was in a conversation with a colleague and we were discussing this very topic. At the time, when I mentioned my hope that we — the ad industry — would begin to finally stand up for ourselves, he said “it’s tough, because there’s always someone willing to do a job for next-t0-nothing.” I didn’t, and still don’t disagree — though it pains me as a small agency owner. Perhaps this latest bit of news from the pitch wars is good news for the industry. Like the lawyers we need to stand up for ourselves. We can work for cheap rates if we put our B-teams on a job, if that’s what the client wants. We can scale back wish lists. Deliver fewer features and functionality. Do fewer rounds of review. Help our clients to understand the intricacies of the review process. As some commenters below the article state, some client side businesses are hurting, but agencies are in dire straits too. Somewhere, amidst the carnage, the two sides need to come together and find common ground. We do need one another, but the client/agency relationship has grown abusive and nasty over the past few years. Many of the agency-side issues come from agency’s general lack of a spine. It’s nice to see spines hardening. Kudos to the big shops. It’s high time, though maybe too late, that we tried to regain some ground.