What the hell are you REALLY paying an agency for, anyway?

Time is money. Let’s just accept this as true. We can go on about it, but it would be a waste of time. Which is actually money. Whatever. Let’s try not to waste either one, okay?

When you hire an advertising or marketing agency, you commit to spending money. On what? An ad campaign? Artwork? Words?

Heck, no. You’re buying time. You’re paying for the talent, experience and expertise of professionals to help guide your business effectively. That’s a valuable thing.

And let’s face it, not everyone’s time is worth the same. For example, you probably expect the surgeon who is performing your appendectomy to charge more than the guy who trims your hedges. Even if your hedge trimmer does a really, really fantastic job, you know his experience and expertise just doesn’t stack up to the dude who is poking around your innards with a scalpel. Now, it’s not too hard for your surgeon to pick up some trimmers and do a fair job on your hedges. But it’s safe to say you probably don’t want your hedge trimmer trying his hand on your appendix.

Consider also that just because Biff is a hedge trimmer, it doesn’t mean he can’t become a surgeon. It will just take a lot of time (a.k.a.: money) and experience (a.k.a.: time, thus more money) before he’s ready to dig into your appendix. And that’s probably a good thing.

So, when you hire an agency, you’re paying for experience and expertise. Sure, there may be art to look at and words to read, but the REAL value you are getting is actually consulting. That’s right, consulting. You may think you chose an agency on the strength of their creative, but the truth is that without the vision to guide your brand, creative has no value.

To quickly illustrate this point, consider “It’s the real thing.” This decades-old Coca-Cola slogan is arguably one of the greatest in advertising history. But how would it work for a brand like Nike? If you saw “it’s the real thing” next to some sweaty athlete in the middle of their workout, wouldn’t you be confused? Or how about Nike’s “Just do it” slogan? Can you picture that being used to sell insurance? Probably not. Yet these are both examples of legendary creative.

Thus, what you’re really paying an agency for is their creative experience and expertise, even if they’re billing by the hour. Now, perhaps you’re thinking that someone who is REALLY expert at something can work a lot more quickly. So therefore, it shouldn’t cost MORE for expertise, but less.

While it is true that an experienced creative is capable of working faster, remember that speed is not really the goal. Quality is. Are you going to have more faith in a logo that took 30 minutes to make, or one that was carefully developed over several weeks?

Perhaps the best way to illustrate this concept is with a diagram. You can consider this “The Immutable Law of Service Providers,” as it is basically always true for service industries.

triangle of woe 1As a client, you have the option of choosing any single side of the triangle, and getting a service as described in the circles the line connects. You can get cheap and fast, fast and good, or good and cheap. The big takeaway is that you can’t get all three at the same time.

Of course, to be competitive, agencies must offer clients a balance of all three. However, that balance can easily be thrown off by client requests. For example, perhaps your business suddenly decided to participate in a trade show, and need your booth and materials created in a rush. And naturally, you want your booth to be high-quality so you can use it at the next trade show. In circumstances like this, it’s not uncommon for agencies, as well as printers and fabricators, to charge rush fees. See diagram above.

Which brings up the next point about how to get your money’s worth from an agency: time management.

As mentioned above, time=money. So, it’s important for you to manage your agency’s time well. And the best way to do this is to negotiate a retainer.

We’ll tell you why, but unfortunately, this article is out of time (money). So we’ll just have to save that for Part 2.

Look for it soon.

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