The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

If You Give An Inch, They’ll Take A Mile …

I’ve written a lot about clients who go to agencies and then tell them what they need.

Or – as the brilliant George once said – go to the doctors and prescribe their own medicine.

Well recently I saw a photo from the MD of 72 Amsterdam – the brilliant, beardy and cat-loving, Nicolas Owen – that I think deals with the issue in the best way I’ve seen …

Now I appreciate that in the ‘real World’, most companies who offered this sort of pricing structure would cave in to the pressure of a potential paying client but the thing is, the moment they do, they’re not just losing cash, they’re literally devaluing themselves.

That might sound dramatic, but it’s true.

As many of you know, I’m doing some work with a rather famous rock band.

During the conversations, I asked their managers how they made so much money from consulting for other bands.

They said, “They’re not paying us for our time, they’re paying us for our 30 years of experience and knowledge”.

OK, so they truly are pioneers in their field … but that confidence in their abilities and value made such a big impression on me.

It shouldn’t as I’ve written about this a ton of times [like here and here for example] but when you look at how we – in the communication industry – handle ‘negotiations’, it seems our starting point is fear rather than confidence, which puts us behind before we’ve even started.

Of course, part of that might be because we know another agency would sell their grandmother to make a dollar, but then the question is why would we want a client who so obviously devalues what we do?

Now to be fair, our industry is great at undermining ourselves.

From scam at Cannes to charging more for process than creativity … so much of what we do sends a signal to clients that we are a servants rather than experts, which is why I like the image from Nicolas so much, because at least they seem to understand that if they’re going to get dictated to, they’re going to make more money from it. At least in theory.

There’s a reason Wieden, Droga etc charge a higher premium than most agencies, because they value the work.

Maybe it’s time the whole industry did that too …

16 Comments so far
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The music managers you are referring to are two of the best the industry has ever seen. I am not saying that to explain why they have so many artists seek their advice. I am saying that is the reason their advice is worth listening to.

Comment by Lee Hill

I bet Rob is harder for them to deal with than Metallica.

Comment by DH

They actually said that to me at one point. It was my proudest moment … especially as all I’d said was ‘I wouldn’t do something they wanted me to do’ rather than ask for a bowl of M&M’s with all the yellow ones taken out or something.

Comment by Rob

Though everything they say is fascinating. Their understanding of creativity – from what it is to how to let it out – is brilliant and such a fresh perspective from the ad industry.

Comment by Rob

I could have told them that for free.

Comment by DH

Good post Rob. You’re right, most agencies would undercut their parents if it let them say they had a new client in the press. And they should value their work more but they would read that as being able to charge more for it without improving standards. It’s not their staffs fault, it’s what they set as good enough standards.

Comment by Pete

Except if you accept the low standards of your bosses then you’re part of the problem and will find it even harder to escape.

Comment by DH

I’m with Dave. I’ve seen it. Once talented people who decided they’d rather have an easier life so take their foot off the pedal.

I’m not blaming them, but the ramifications of that decision can be very big if/when they lose their gig and suddenly realise they not only have nothing of value to show prospective employers, but are behind the new basic levels of the industry.

Comment by Rob

30 years at the top of their game and they end up working with Campbell. They must be pissed.

Comment by Billy Whizz

It just keeps getting better and better for them …

Well, that’s what I keep repeating to them anyway.

Comment by Rob

I agree with this in theory but who doesn’t have to discount these days? I know for a fact Wieden and Droga do. Everyone does it. So maybe the point is you have to discount less when clients come to you for your high standards of work rather than your low price point. You’re welcome.

Comment by DH

Dave for the win.

Comment by Pete

OK … OK …

I hate it when you decide to answer properly.

In all seriousness, that’s a great point. The thing I find fascinating is how clients often want their agencies to lower their fees but suggest they lower the price of their products and you’re met with disgust.

Of course, part of that is because they have a bunch of data they use to identify the optimum price point … though with many brands, it’s interesting that the first thing they do when times are more challenging is lower their price.

As I’ve said before, so much of what is wrong with our industry is based on ego rather than effectiveness.

Comment by Rob

I’ll send you my invoice.

Comment by DH

Yes to everything in this post. And David’s comment. Alarmingly insightful.

Comment by George

Is Dave’s insightfulness why Andy has been strangely silent?

Comment by Pete

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