Perspective: How to achieve best practice in 42 difficult stages

Agencies stretch themselves too thin by trying to be all things to all clients. Agencies do not plan. Agencies do not understand technology.

Agencies pitch for everything irrespective of whether they have a chance of winning or not.

There is a certain negativity that creeps through a new report by the Pace Partnership and Willott Kingston Smith. In a business climate where Shell, Parmalat and Enron have made failure a very big thing, maybe this is not surprising.

Yet, irrespective of the prevailing mood, this is a more revealing and entertaining report than most. At the end the authors have laid out 42 conditions that agencies seeking best practice must meet. The following give a flavour:

We always deliver everything to our clients on, or before time. (As opposed to putting briefs into the system and hoping for the best.)

We are comfortable with the concept that different clients will receive different levels of service from our company.

(How many start-ups promise personal attention from the founders long after the founders have found it impossible to offer such a thing?)

We are comfortable to turn down an invitation to pitch if we have not built a relationship in advance with that prospect. (Which agency, honestly, refuses the chance to pitch when invited?)

Our service range is not tied to one communications discipline. (This, clients attest, is untrue for most agencies.)

Internal meetings that review and plan progress with key clients are well-structured and productive affairs. (Tardy, pointless meetings are the defining characteristic in business life.)

In our business the relationship between a key client and our company is not based on the personal relationship and chemistry between two individuals. (This too is ridiculous. Nothing works like a contact in advertising. Whole careers have been built on the golf course and over the lunch table.)

Our key clients rely on our company in ways that make it very difficult for them to move to our competitors. (Not true. Recent account moves, especially in media, suggest that shaving a quarter of a per cent off the budget is a damn fine reason to move.)

Nobody in our organisation ever promises anything they cannot deliver.

(This is ridiculous, everybody in business routinely does just that.)

We operate/offer payment by results to ensure our output is focused on meeting our clients' objectives. (This is rarely the case. The net result of the Orange campaign is that it was sold for £29 billion on profits of £150 million, but WCRS got no more than a straightforward fee.)

All of the above makes me glad I do not work for an agency and have never aspired to. I do not have to worry about seeking perfection but can slope around in the usual cynical journalistic manner.

Until, until commercial reality bites back. Permit me a small and biased digression. It was too much to expect the order books of Campaign to be groaning with agencies wishing to advertise themselves to young recruits through the pages of the forthcoming Campaign for Beginners. This is our baby-sized magazine, now in its second year, published in association with D&AD. But I must confess to being disappointed by the response so far. There seems to be only a handful of agencies that have faith in advertising.

The others either cannot trust their creative department to create the ads in time, prefer to zig while others zag or - wait for it - do not believe in advertising. Come on, folks. There's no better sign that you believe in what you do than, well, doing a bit of it yourselves.

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