The AOR Dilemma

Agency of Record.

The term implies a relationship where an agency agrees to make recommendations on an ongoing basis, in order to solve a client’s marketing problems.

Quite often, however, such a relationship devolves into diplomacy and the maintenance of cordial relations. It’s like everything that requires effort or pushback is a sensitive thing, as if people owning the relationship on the agency side are walking on eggshells – afraid to speak up, and make firm suggestions or demands.

I truly don’t understand why so many agencies choose to be so subservient all the time; turning into passive-aggressive order takers with near-inevitability, instead of trying to be trusted advisors.

I’ve never known a client who accepted if the rationale for a bad solution was simply “Well, you asked for it!”. Clients expect their agency partners to know better, and make appropriate recommendations. Often this seems to go to the genesis and DNA of every business – if you’re working for a company founded by bean counters, then nothing but beans is of value. And there is little realization that beans actually need to be planted first, in order to yield results.

(Also, you know the old rhyme: ”beans, beans, the musical fruit. The more you eat, the more you toot.” Which are perhaps not really the results clients want…)

To be more specific, what perplexes me is that some agencies can’t seem to get it in their heads that subject matter expertise is something you CAN and SHOULD sell to the client, because (drumroll): clients actually LIKE that kind of stuff. And it might make them respect you, and listen when you advise them.

It’s true that there’s a time and place for everything – which is exactly why agencies need strategic orchestration of all client accounts, and figure out at the OUTSET if a project needs discovery, strategy and solutioning. If not, the work is just BAU, and all we need to do is to focus on requirements, cranking out assets as efficiently as possible. But instead, agencies tend to try and sell everything as BAU, packaging every service up into an easily quantifiable and sold set of off-the-shelf solutions.

Which seems to be exactly why consultancies are eating agencies’ lunches right now. Consultancies promise solutions and outcomes, and proceed to deliver them by iterating on client needs, as opposed to the agency approach of bucketing everything into piecemeal one-size-fits-all units that are sold with a fervor of a street market vendor.

”Display ads! Display ads” Special price, only for you my friend!”

Even if what the client actually needs isn’t display ads.

To quote Maslow: “To the man who only has a hammer, everything he encounters begins to look like a nail.”

So, how do agencies dig themselves out of this siloed, homogenized, mass-marketing-slash-carpet-bombing paradigm, where clients are quantified and not qualified, adapted to existing solutions instead of the opposite? And where consumers are treated as faceless masses of undifferentiated people, with the same generic needs?

I sadly think we (as marketing practitioners, whose SME is often not respected) can only hope to achieve fractions of that goal – by focusing on things that are within our control.

And then we can maybe find approaches that could be SEEDS of broader solutions, but which we don’t fully control, and we therefore have to settle for simply spreading in the wind, like dandelions.

Only question is: who has the patience to see if all those things actually germinate into something?

If you were rewarded for that patience, then maybe… but as it is, it all has to be skunkworks in nature, without any promise of results OR reward.

This, then, is the AOR Dilemma.

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