The Pitfalls of Fear and Flattery in Agency Relationships

The Pitfalls of Fear and Flattery in Agency Relationships

As agency partners seek to please through flattery rather than honesty, the detrimental effects on both parties' interests become evident. Discover the consequences of conditioning agencies for deference and the importance of fostering transparent communication in successful partnerships.

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Let's do a fun experiment. Think back to the last time you felt really scared. Not just a little scared like watching a horror movie, but truly worried about what might happen in the future.

Take a moment to remember how you felt during that time. You might have felt tense, anxious, or easily irritated.

Feeling uninspired lately? Maybe work has been feeling like a drag, especially if coming up with new ideas is a big part of your job.

Take a deep breath, you're back. That wasn't very enjoyable, was it?

Anyway, here’s a newsflash… your agencies are scared. Often of you. And here’s another truth bomb: that’s as big a problem for you as it is for them. 

Hiding behind the sofa

One of my agency clients recently got a Request For Proposal (RFP) from a big global company. This company was well-known, had an interesting project, and my client had the right experience for it.

However, there was a major issue with the RFP - it required payment within 120 days. This was a problem for the agency. So, what was their next step?

Simply put, nothing changed. Although the client was a perfect match, they hesitated to speak up. They were afraid that challenging the status quo would jeopardize their position in the project.

It all boils down to fear.

Cultivating agency fear

Maybe you’re thinking “so what?”. Let’s try another example.

Have you ever been in a situation where an agency is overly eager to please you, showering you with excessive praise and flattery? It can be quite uncomfortable, right? It's like they can't stop thanking you for the opportunity and expressing their admiration for your brand.

It's not a great feeling, is it? Maybe it even made you feel a bit unwell, like it did for me. Honestly, I hope you've experienced it too. Your self-esteem doesn't need this kind of insincere behavior. If it does, what you really need is a comforting hug, not a pushy agency.

If you enjoy when agencies give you empty compliments, it shows that you hold all the power over them.

When agencies go out of their way to make you feel important, it's obvious that they are afraid of losing you. If they don't constantly express their love and devotion, you might move on to another agency. This behavior is a classic example of anxious attachment.

Again, let’s be clear, why should you care? After all, what’s a bit of brown-nosing between friends, sorry, partners? 

It matters because their power is a proxy for yours. 

Importance of Strong Agencies for Marketers

Your success as a marketer is closely linked to the strength of your agencies. The more capable and efficient they are, the brighter your future in the industry. It's puzzling that some marketers unknowingly undermine the potential of their agencies.

Short-term thinking is clearly seen in the constant reduction of agency fees. It's possible that your agency still has enough creativity and enthusiastic young employees to maintain progress, but continuous squeezing is not sustainable.

In the end, lower profits result in attracting less talented individuals. It's a straightforward concept, right? We will delve deeper into this issue in a future column.

To foster innovation, it's important to recognize early warning signs. If you only accept shallow flattery from agencies, you are signaling that you are their all-powerful overlord. This can lead to fearful and conservative thinking, hindering true innovation.

Prioritize Genuine Partnership

Language is a powerful tool that can lead to significant progress. In our industry, the term 'partnership' is often thrown around without much conviction, highlighting a lack of clarity in its true meaning.

Both clients and agencies, though more commonly the latter, often refer to themselves as partners. However, the interpretation of this term varies greatly among all parties involved.

When thinking about procurement, people often think of commercials. Marketers, on the other hand, often see partnership as agencies going above and beyond, also known as over-servicing.

However, when agencies take a moment to reflect on what partnership truly means to them, it usually boils down to just being treated with basic courtesy. This approach can lead to a relationship based on co-dependence rather than a truly productive partnership.

Instead, imagine a version of partnership characterised by mutual respect and the freedom to challenge? 

Ensuring expertise has a voice

When we feel safe, our creativity thrives. Imagine if your team knew that you appreciated their skills and knowledge, not just their ability to socialize.

What if you encouraged them to feel like equals? By politely discouraging unnecessary jargon and making it clear that speaking up is encouraged, you'll show that questioning and challenging ideas is essential, not a problem.

All ideas are valuable - whether they are groundbreaking or just expressing uncertainty. By embracing all ideas, you can fully benefit from the insights and different perspectives that external agencies bring. Restricting their creativity only hinders your own progress.

Encouraging diverse opinions doesn't imply that you must always agree. On the contrary, it fosters a culture of mutual respect. This approach minimizes the chances of talented individuals holding back their innovative ideas, which could potentially lead to significant breakthroughs.

If you don’t give your agencies the freedom to think outside the box, they may end up causing more harm than good by staying quiet. It's a frightening thought.

Robin Bonn is the CEO of Co:definery, a consulting and coaching practice that specializes in working with agencies.

Editor's P/S:

This article provides a thought-provoking perspective on the dynamics between marketers and their agencies. It highlights the negative impact of fear on agencies, which can lead to subpar performance and stifle innovation. The author emphasizes the importance of fostering genuine partnerships based on mutual respect and open communication, where agencies feel empowered to challenge ideas and share their expertise. By creating a safe and supportive environment, marketers can unlock the full potential of their agencies and drive better outcomes for both parties.

Overall, the article serves as a valuable reminder that nurturing strong agency relationships is crucial for marketing success. By understanding the fears and motivations of their agencies, marketers can create a collaborative environment that fosters creativity, innovation, and mutual growth.