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Get More by Starting Right

Yesterday, David Murdico wrote for Ad Age about 5 Ways to Get More Out of Your Digital Agency. In the article, he discusses how brand managers can maximize the results they get from the professional service firms they hire. Taking a step back, however, the tactics and techniques he recommends suggest a larger and much more fundamental problem.

Murdico comes close to identifying this problem at the beginning of his piece when he talks about a disconnect that often exists between the “perceived value of the work, the scope of the work and the results that work will yield.” But his solution—which is essentially that clients should take on more of a controlling and demanding role inside of project work—deals with the symptoms of that disconnect, not the cause. The cause, I would suggest, is misaligned incentives that were established before the work ever began.

Let me put it another way: The 5 recommendations given in this piece are 1) hold agencies accountable, 2) demand measurement, 3) require flexibility, 4) expect creativity, and 5) communicate. These are all great and vital things—so much so that you have to ask why wouldn’t an agency want this in the first place?

Imagine applying advice like this to working with a PwC or an Ernst & Young. It would seem pretty redundant and unnecessary, would it not? Of course they’re going to think creatively, of course they’re going to measure, of course they’re going to communicate. That’s what they’re paid to do. You hire them to solve big, complicated problems and set up the engagement and pricing model around that expectation.

2 years ago, Jon Lax talked about our decision to get rid of the hourly rate. We did this because we wanted to get out of the business of selling hours to clients. When you sell hours vs. outcomes, you’re incented be efficient vs. effective. Murdico’s recommendations are great for monitoring and managing agencies that are striving to be efficient instead of adding real value. But if you truly want to get more out of your digital agency, perhaps taking a hard look at why and how you hired them to begin with is a better place to start.

David Gillis More posts by David Gillis