Can agencies shift from problem solvers to opportunity makers?

Tom ChildsThe relationship between client and agency has come under the spotlight a lot recently. Tom Child wonders if it’s time to rethink the nature of relationship, and move beyond the traditional role for agencies as problem solvers.

Clients have been locked in an arm wrestle for some time with their prospective agencies, each side resisting submission. Both perspectives looking to establish the greatest possible value, whether it talent, deliverables or ultimately cost.

This dynamic has shackled many agencies to simply adressing the primary challenges of the briefs presented and merely being the problem solver. As most agency folk know, there is no uniform brief, each come full with a unique array of information (or lack of) that helps build an understanding of the challenge lying in wait. So often agencies target the issues at hand and solely focus on being the problem solver that they miss out on becoming the opportunity maker for the client.

But will we ever see a shift in perspectives so that agencies can step up to be the elusive opportunity maker? Recent events within Singapore’s media landscape have seen tensions rise, culminating in agencies being charged to pitch. A move showcasing an unfortunate trend in placing less value in a teams ability to consult and reiterating an inferior supplier relationship.

It’s up to the agency to be inquisitive and push the client to get to the real issues at hand before they are able to reframe the challenge and start the process of capitalising on commercial growth opportunities. Sounds straightforward, right? Yet so many of us are unwilling to move away from such rigid and formal, box-to-box processes in favour for leaner, more agile approaches.

For so long we have been conditioned to approach a challenge in the same way, identifying the problem, establishing alternative solutions and developing an orderly plan to resolve everything. On the surface, this comprehensive and logical approach would answer most briefs, however it only looks to solve the identified challenge rather than consider the wider context in play. Yes this approach provides a strong sense of order and a common frame of reference to communicate on, but often this linear way of problem solving is not the way the world, or consumers, works.

It’s time for agencies to reframe the challenges posed to them and broaden their outlook of the brief to become increasingly adaptive and sensitive to the chaotic dynamics of everyday life. It has been said that many challenges are not solved, simply out grown so we should look to introduce a leaner way of thinking; one that encourages incremental refinement rather than ‘fixing’ problems that are true for a moment in time.

Anchoring decisions to consumer truths earlier in the process to allow concepts, strategies and ideas to evolve, morphing a solution to fit with what the consumer really desires. This leaner process of quicker learning encourages failing faster to get to a solution built on collaborative learning within the context of the market.

This process involves trust. Not every client-agency relationship starts off with the faith that this alternative course of action will deliver the efficiencies required. Often the process is unknown and less comfortable for trust to develop freely but there is one way to resolve this.

If you are the smartest person in the room then perhaps you are in the wrong room, we need to challenge our own thinking by implementing an integrated team to tackle the brief with fresh viewpoints from all sides. This entrepreneurial mind-set helps ideas grow, encouraging experimentation over elaborative planning and feedback over intuition. It is a continual learning process that takes static briefs and reframes them to create the greatest value for client and customer alike.

We only have to look to the start-up world for inspiration and the processes in place as they look to adapt and grow their concepts. And it’s working — just look at the mature start-ups that are being sold for billions of dollars or those which are rallying for IPO. A constructive shift in thinking of how to approach their challenges means they have overtaken many corporations in delivering solutions that are in harmony with their target.

Nimble and iterative will become the strategy of the future, replacing static and insular approaches to thinking. However it is on the shoulders of clients and agencies to work closely together to readdress the current imbalace if they are to be rewarded with greater efficiencies and solutions that truly resonate with consumers.

Tom Child is senior consultant at Clear M&C Saatchi


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