Working with agencies sucks

Peter Woodward

Why are agencies so hard to work with? It’s because agencies and their clients are talking about two different things.

Agencies like to charge their clients based on their input into a project. This comes in the form of a billable rate and an estimate of time (hopefully based on similar projects they’ve completed). The more people involved in the project, the more money it costs. Clients are also charged a premium for more senior people (aka people paid more by the agency) who may or may not contribute to the final deliverable. They keep timesheets to track their time against projects and are held to certain billable quotas. This is how agencies have existed for many years, and clients are expected to be able to work with this.

The problem is clients aren’t looking for input. They’re looking for output.

The agencies know it too! They’ll highlight the deliverables for a project but still charge for their time. The result? Sometimes, they come in under budget and celebrate the “extra profit” they get. A lot of times, they go over budget and tensions rise. The best work may not be produced because the projects need to end. The relationship between the agency and its client may be severed or broken past repair. If it isn’t, there is always the memory of the project that “didn’t go well”.

So, what would it look like for agencies to actually charge their clients for outputs?

Without so much worrying about hours and budget, creative people working on projects would be free to be creative. They could spend the time they need to get the work done right instead of fitting inside a time slot. After all, it’s not like people can stop thinking about work problems when they leave the office (and it’s really hard to remember to log shower epiphanies on a timesheet).

The result of this is a better product. Therefore, as agencies, we need to start thinking about our work as products. The outputs that our clients need should be outlined as clearly as possible and delivered in a way that brings as much value as possible to both the client and the agency. This will require mutual respect and for agencies to actually care about improving the life of the client or business. This is how Shortstop prefers to operate.

Once agencies recognize that we’re delivering a valuable product, they can reduce the tension in projects and actually enjoy working with their clients. For now, working with agencies kind of sucks. But we’re doing our part to make it a little better.

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