When Agencies Focus Too Little on the Brand and Too Much on the Client

Here Are Seven Tips to Keep in Mind

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How do you know if you're working for the brand or working for the client? It may sound like a trick question, but isn't. While working for the brand and not the client doesn't have to be an either/or proposition, it is an easy line to cross.

Despite our best intentions, in the face of fast-approaching deadlines and never-ending deliverables, agencies can sacrifice what's good for the brand in order to get work sold and scopes signed. It can mean compromising long-term thinking for short-term wins, rigor for what seems "realistic," and good ideas for good relationships.

Below are seven signs that your focus is more on the brand than the client or, said another way, seven warnings that perhaps you aren't directing enough attention on the brand.

1. You've actually used the product since the pitch. We all know the product-trial frenzy that kicks in with the adrenaline of a pitch. You buy it in bulk, visit the website every lunch break and the retail store every day on your way home. And then after the big win, it starts collecting dust as briefs get written and creative gets produced. Experiencing the brand by using the product is as important a deliverable as everything else (and, of course, you wouldn't dream of using one of the competitors' products!).

2. You treat your friends like the world's most underpaid focus group. So using the brand's product is Marketing 101. But do you find yourself casually soliciting opinions about your brand from friends and family? Constantly? Treating your friends like ad-hoc qualitative research is the best way to keep yourself honest about what the brand stands for outside of client briefs and your own. Plus , it's free (or may cost you a round of drinks).

3. Your ideas outnumber your decks. The deck is a given, but it's only a vehicle. Deck psychosis is similar to what zoo animals experience when they're locked in a cage for too long. Brands are built on ideas, not slides. Putting ideas first, and jumping into debate with clients is better than diving head first into a deck.

4. The primary target for your work is still the consumer. There are a number of audiences your work faces before it faces the most important one, the consumer. It can be all too easy to create ideas that work for those first audiences instead of the one that matters. Working for the brand means creating work you can sell to your consumer first and client second.

5. You play nice with your agency partners. We all know that extra agencies can often lead to extra processes and extra egos. But those are just negative side effects to the alchemy that can result from the cooperation between different agencies with different expertise. Expertise and knowledge you really don't have, as much as you try to convince your client that you do. So play nice in the sandbox for the brand's sake, because when the brand succeeds, so do you, even if you don't get to claim all the credit.

6. You wait for the brand report to measure success, not the thank-you note. There's nothing better than when clients love the work. But actually, there is . When clients love the work AND when the work actually works. So before you frame that email they sent you, personally thanking you for a job well done, open that report to see how the results are impacting your brand. And if indeed, the work is truly working for your brand, you can frame that report too.

7. Your client is more like a fellow member of the debate team than a foreign dignitary. The truth may be ugly, but not solving the problem is even worse. Being a 'yes' man or woman is useless to a brand and isn't going to sustain your business relationship with it. The best role is the one that 's honest. And that means debating issues crucial to the brand -- constructively disagreeing on the challenges and solutions. Worrying more about agreeing on what's right, and less about agreeing with every request, and even less about who's catering the lunch when they come to discuss it.

In the end, working for the client and the brand should and can be mutually inclusive. While we all share the same ambitions for brand growth -- putting relationships before results compromises both. It jeopardizes the integrity of the brand, our reputations for producing effective work, and ironically, the very client relationships we're trying to build. We're all in the service business, but ultimately we're hired to serve the brand, with our clients as partners in that mission.

Jonah Disend is the CEO of Redscout, owned by MDC Partners.
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