PHILADELPHIA (January 10, 2017)– Brownstein Group CEO & President Marc Brownstein recently penned an article for the January issue of Philly Ad News forecasting the 2017 regional business outlook. The article, titled “You’re Eligible for an Upgrade,” can be read below and discusses how agencies shouldn’t be afraid to have tough conversations with clients about what they need.
Our machines are getting smarter – we talk to them, expect them to anticipate needs, desires, emotions. When they take too long, we get frustrated with them, shake them, slap them. They are there to serve us, provide a function that didn’t exist last year but we can’t imagine living without. They are circuit boards and microprocessors originally built to respond to input, now designed to think on their own.
It’s the end of the year, and you’re looking at your clients. But how do they see you? Ask yourself – are you a vendor, or a partner? Because vendors execute, partners innovate. Vendors produce a vision, whereas partners provide a vision. Which has more value over the long term?
We need to figure out our value in 2017, measure our impact beyond our ability to simply follow instruction. There are industries where that skill is useful, and if your job is to manufacture a car, it’s not a good idea to stray from the process. But we’re in a creative industry, where businesses hire us (as experts) to manage their brand, so while they certainly have the final say, are we challenging the conversation? Are we pushing back enough?
As creative agencies we need to be creators instead of appliances, create the narrative instead of following it. Like the best technology, we have to continue our own evolution, learn to anticipate the needs, desires and emotions of our clients. This past election has shown that many of us are out of touch, that our best research and strategy may have taken place in a bubble, not been reflective of our full audience. Maybe because we’ve gotten too comfortable. Maybe because too many of us use data to support preconceived notions, instead of overturning them.
These aren’t easy conversations to have with clients, particularly new ones. Everyone likes validation, especially when they think they’re paying for it. Client service has been a central tenet of our industry since day one, but has shifted dangerously closer to “the client is always right,” largely due to a survival mentality built during the Recession. It’s difficult to disagree with someone keeping your lights on, but clients want us to challenge them, excite them, give them that “sweaty palms” moment. After all, most client-agency relationships are not marriages, they are affairs fed on passion.
These aren’t safe conversations to have with clients either, particularly legacy ones. One big risk? Irony – your client is open to hearing new ideas, and you can’t provide them. Remember, while change sounds good, if you’re used to being an appliance, you’re only capable of doing what you’re programmed. The point is, being functionary won’t be good enough in the year ahead. If we’ve learned anything from 2016, it’s the importance of tearing down everything you once considered sacrosanct, assuming all assumptions are wrong, and not just throwing out the playbook, but burying it at night so you don’t even know where to visit.
To be an effective change agent, it’s not good enough to tweak and pivot, you have to be willing to blow stuff up, start over. There’s a comparison to be made between this contention and Philadelphia. We, as a city, are in the process of pushing back, blowing up the narrative that the rest of the country and the world had established for us – that we’re a lesser New York, a stopover to DC, our best product a fictional pugilist. For years we’ve known about that description, seethed, worked around it, continued to produce. Now we’re busting out of it, starting a new narrative. We’re not responding to criticism, we’re starting conversations, about our booming real estate market, our creative young entrepreneurs, our place on the world stage.
This holiday season, as you’re exchanging presents with loved ones, take a look at the new technology being passed around, and especially consider what it’s replacing.
To read that full January issue of Philly Ad News, click HERE