Ridiculous idea number one: get rid of "conflict" as an issue.
It’s surely the oldest dilemma in the book for agencies. Clients rightly demand a deep understanding of their category. Yet the moment you have real, hands-on experience of it (through being appointed by a client in said category), you find yourself unable to work with anyone else in the same category. It’s bonkers!
Yet none of the consultancy companies bat an eyelid at working with two or three competitive businesses. Advertising remains the last industry where we believe conflict is an issue. "It’s because we have access to their secret plans," we assure ourselves. "We are paid on retainer so owe it to clients to be loyal," we bleat. In truth, it’s just shortsighted, because it is a system that perpetuates the current industry model we all suffer from (over-supply of agencies and under-supply of revenue). Wonderful if you’re a buyer of our services; less wonderful if you’re an agency.
So, how do other consultancy businesses do it? Well, they’ve appropriated one brilliant word to their lexicon: practice. As in: "our retail practice" or "our automotive practice". By borrowing the language of medicine and the law, you imply it is a concentration of expertise that clients are buying into. Thus you celebrate the conflicts, transforming them into "specialisms". It’s basically a fantastic semantic trick that, at a stroke, sidesteps the entire issue. We should copy it immediately.
Ridiculous idea number two: licence our ideas to clients.
Again, it is madness that we develop brand-transforming work (whether embodied as a slogan or any other type of executional asset) that we have no way of charging for, other than as a by-product of our fee.
It's basically a fantastic semantic trick that sidesteps the entire issue of client conflict. We should copy it
Surely, we should develop a simple licensing system where clients pay a reduced retainer, topped up with a licence fee to use the agency’s work for a year. Then, the following year, if the client wishes to continue to use your idea (because it remains yours, not theirs, in this insane model I’m describing), they pay you another licence fee. And so on. Then, if they get bored of you and want a pitch, they can have one, but, sadly, it means they won’t be able to use any of your work in future. This system might have the happy side-effect of deterring tyre-kicking types from embarking on costly and
time-consuming (for agencies) pitches too.
So there they are – two hopelessly naïve ideas barely worth considering. It really is classic, silly season stuff.
Richard Alford is the managing director at M&C Saatchi