Bogged Down in Fear and Legalese

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MARC BROWNSTEIN: We all know how hard it is to win business today. Now, just when we get the ball over the goal line, a new wrinkle has emerged -- fear of signing. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a disturbing trend. After winning a piece of business, it’s supposed to be a honeymoon phase. Instead, agency and client are getting mired deeper than ever in legalese. Language once considered SOP by most clients (and certainly by Brownstein Group), is now being challenged.

What’s going on?

I think there are two things at work here:

Marketing Directors have more pressure to deliver than ever before. They are being held accountable with shorter runways and higher goals. If they don’t come through, they’re often gone. In fact, a recent Advertising Age report detailed how senior-level, client-side marketing folks are going through a revolving door lately. So, my guess is that they are taking extra CYA measures.

We live in a litigious world. And legal covenants that were once routinely blessed are now scrutinized.

And that makes it riskier than ever to engage with a new client and adress the pressing scope of work that has to begin once the agency is hired and as the contract stuff is simultaneously left to the legal & financial departments. Meanwhile, the agency is often moving full speed ahead under an interim letter of agreement, instead of a comprehensive contract. Which means the agency is vulnerable. And some relationships start off on a cautionary note, instead of one built upon trust.

I know some of you are going to tell me not to move forward with any client work until the comprehensive contract is fully executed. But that’s easier said than done when deadlines are approaching, and the agency-client teams are salivating to get out of the gate.

This is what we’re seeing. I’d be curious to learn if others are seeing the same cautionary trend.
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