What to Do When You're in a Threesome

It's Not the Easiest Relationship to Maneuver, but It Can Be Rewarding

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Lorenzo Romero Lorenzo Romero
Not so long ago, we got an invitation to present a proposal for some very tasty work to a huge organization. The way the marketing director spoke, it seemed like the job was ours for the taking. Our agency, really wanting to put a best foot forward, spent quite a bit of time getting our presentation together. In all of our excitement, we didn't spend the time to wonder why this huge company was handing us our next five years of capitalized revenue on a silver platter, or why they weren't using their long-time huge ad agency. Hmmmm.

Well, you can imagine my dismay when we did not get the entire advertising budget of this huge organization -- a budget that was, in fact, handled by their long-time ad agency. We were, however, given some spec work and asked to join this relationship as a third party.

AAAaaugh!! A third party?? It's like discovering there's someone else in your bed! A ménage à trois, if you will. This French phrase literally translates as a "household of three" and yes, I certainly did feel like the awkward on-looker.

Has your agency ever been involved in a threesome? How do we allow ourselves to get involved in these relationships. And do they ever pan out like we expect?

I think that generally, smaller agencies take one of two common approaches, both of which end badly. First, they may go in with both guns blazing, thinking that perhaps they can undermine the larger agency. Listen, there is a reason that "ABC" agency is as big and as successful as they are. They're not idiots, and they didn't luck into their success.

Secondly, a smaller agency may approach the relationship with fear and trembling, neutering any chance of creativity or doing their best work. Both of these approaches are disastrous.

Can a threesome be successful? It can, but the smaller agency has to keep several things in mind, namely:

  • Understand and accept your role for what it is. You are not the agency of record, but merely there to do the smaller spec work that the larger agency doesn't want or is too busy for. If that doesn't sit well with your ego, don't take the job.

  • Don't try to undermine the larger incumbent agency. Be humble and sincerely try to learn from the older, more established firm. There is a reason they are where they are.

  • Under-promise, over-deliver. This really could be a great opportunity for you. Do your best work, even if it seems trivial or you may not get the recognition you'd like. As the proverb goes: "He who is faithful with little will be faithful with much."

  • Stand firm in your creative convictions and opinions. In this threesome, size doesn't always matter. We all know that smaller is sometimes better, so be ready to defend your position.
With these things in mind, a smaller agency may indeed prove itself to the client and potentially have opportunities for more of the action as the relationship progresses.
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