Unfortunately too many companies most often reward digital marketing agencies for our execution of campaigns. But at our core, agencies are thinkers and our greatest value to clients is our ability to think not execute.
But it seems like not a week goes by that I’m not involved in a conversation with a colleague, prospect or both, about a proposal, a fee or some form of compensation matter. It always starts with someone feeling something just shouldn’t, couldn’t possibly take that long and cost that much to craft a marketing strategy.
I’m not surprised because we agencies did it to ourselves. We started charging by the hour, which immediately devalued thought and began valuing execution. Then we started undercutting each other with lower-cost bids, loss-leader projects, etc. And in doing so, we continue to divert attention away from that which matters most — thought and more importantly the value of thoughts — and not the amount of time it takes to execute those thoughts in the form of campaigns.
This is nothing new and certainly not just the province of digital agencies, as full-service agencies too have to justify costs too. But having worked at full-service and digital only agencies, I must confess digital agencies do have to deal with this issue more often. I attribute the phenomenon to the inherent trackability of digital. Companies erringly think this trackability should extend to the actual thought creation behind great marketing too.
Great Marketing Is Built On Great Thought
Over the years I’ve tried many, many different arguments to help those that would challenge the validity of a “expensive proposal” or “hefty fee.” But I’ve recently found what seems to be the most logical and effective of all arguments.
I ask a simple question.
How long does it take to think a thought?
And while it doesn’t stop the conversation, it at least alters it and moves it from a focus on execution to a focus on outcome and value.
The other party almost always responds that they don’t know and then turn the question back to me.
To which I respond, “Depends.”
What Kind Of Thought Would You Like Today?
I ask if they would prefer a perfect thought? A half-baked one? A big thought or small one? A legal thought or maybe a dirty one? I could go on. The point is we never really know how long it will take to think a thought, especially a really good one.
Yet every day in our business we are asked to tell clients how long it will take and then ascribe a cost based on the amount of time we think it will take to craft an innovative or effective marketing strategy. Like we have a magical calculator that has a special connection with time and space and somehow can spit these things out in neat little estimates for signature.
Which leads us to the second half of this thought. How much should a solid good ole thought cost? It’s easier to craft costs for executional things. When clients as “how much should a social media program cost?” or “how long should it take before a social media program shows results?” I can answer that because there is a body of work that can be examined and averaged.
But thought is a different animal altogether.
You may sit for hours contemplating a marketing challenge. Then the next morning while you’re jogging the answer pops into your head. But how long did it take? Should you bill for just the time you’re jogging or should you bill for all of that time you spent “sleeping on it” too?
Additionally should that cost be based on the time it takes to think it or the value the thought itself creates? I’d vote the latter. The innovative marketing idea that drives a 20% increase in sales is just as valuable to the client if thought of in five minutes or five days. So why should a highly creative digital agency be penalized for being efficient? Likewise, big ideas can often be elusive. But a blank check isn’t fair either. After all, clients have finite budgets.
So what is the right answer? There isn’t one.
Compensation is an imperfect science at best. The first step is for clients and agencies to learn to trust again. Clients need to invest in agencies and agencies in clients. We need to create compensation packages that underwrite effort and reward brilliance regardless of how long it takes. Clients and agencies need to recognize that four singles are just as valuable as a home run. We all need to rededicate ourselves to the core offering — thought — and ensure that the person or persons responsible for creating the really big, really valuable thoughts are justly compensated.
But that could just be me… what do you think?