The idiot’s guide to running a transparent agency

With every media agency jumping to promote just how transparent they are, Kaimera’s Nick Behr explains why talking the talk doesn't always mean you know how to walk the walk.

The recent goings on with industry awards has put transparency firmly back on the agenda. And while running a transparent agency may seem obvious to many, our industry is no stranger to greed and temptation. However, no matter what, integrity must remain at the forefront of business.

With that in mind, here’s a quick trip down the path towards becoming an agency clients can trust.

Don’t just talk the talk

The first rule of running a transparent agency is don’t talk about the transparency of the agency. You actually have to be transparent.

Nothing could be more embarrassing than a loud declaration in the trade press about your transparency creds followed by a protracted unveiling of your less-than-transparent behaviour.

When it comes to actually being transparent, think about how that translates into the day-to-day operations of your business. What can you do to demonstrate your transparency? What should you avoid doing to undermine your claim to transparency?

Honestly, honesty

Honesty really is the best policy and that’s a lesson I work hard to teach my two small children. It may be even more important in a business environment, but don’t tell their mother that.

We all want to put our best foot forward, whether that’s during the pitch process or in an awards entry. But if you’re tempted to tell a fib or stretch the truth, remember this: once you start lying, it’s very hard to stop.

There’s also a danger that you will actually start believing the lies that you’re telling.

It’s better to simply be honest from the get-go, no matter how many challenging conversations that means you have to have.

Agency leaders, in particular, need to stay vigilant about personal and professional integrity. But we all need to be strong and stick up for what is right.

Ditch the dodgy business practices

We’ve all heard stories about behind-the-scenes wheeling and dealing such as buying media at a certain rate and charging a different rate, or doing dodgy deals.

But that’s the tame stuff. Some of the stories I’ve heard, if I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. There have been whispers about bribes involving home renovations to plastic surgery. You could write a film about this stuff. It’s madness.

If you’re really serious about transparency, make your business practices and trading process as transparent as possible. Tell people what their media buys actually cost, show them the paperwork to prove it. Yes, we all know these costs can be hidden, but make the effort to put yourself out there to the best extent possible.

Lead by example

If you’re an agency boss making dubious claims in the trade press or award entries, what does that say about your agency and its practices?

What sort of message does it send to your staff, who will no doubt question everything you say?

Set a high bar for your staff in terms of transparency, and they’re much more likely to follow suit. Go one step further by hiring people who take transparency seriously. Reward them for doing so and continue to instil the importance in them.

Put your relationships first

Agencies need to ensure that the client is their number one priority. They should be doing everything they can to make sure the client gets the best deal possible. Yes, agencies need to make money, but clients should always come first but they shouldn’t put themselves first in order to do so. That would be like a real estate agent selling a house and putting the buyer in front of the seller. That should never happen.

Nurturing relationships with your clients is vital to having a transparent agency, because if you don’t have a good relationship with the client then the temptation to lie is far greater. It’s like any relationship; if you don’t know someone well enough, you feel you can bend the truth, or you could tell them lies because you don’t think they’ll ever find out.

Look after your clients and the business will look after itself in more ways than simply delivering on the transparency promise.

Deliver the goods

If you say you’re going to buy $1 million worth of ad space in Bacon Busters magazine, then you should bloody well do exactly that. Deliver what you say you’re going to deliver on, plain and simple.

Demonstrate your transparency

If you’re committed to running a transparent agency, there are a number of things you can do to show it.

Give clients invoices directly rather than paying them yourself. Have a third-party accountant that audits your business every year and offer clients a full audit at any time. Provide access to programmatic platforms so clients know exactly the CPMs being bought.

Ultimately, it comes down to making your costs transparent. Obviously, clients don’t need to know how much you paid for a laptop or even your rent, but you can be open about your fees.

The tragic reality is that it’s almost impossible for clients to know if agencies are legitimately transparent but being proactive about it goes a long way to showing you take transparency seriously.

Nick Behr is one of the founding partners of media agency startup Kaimera.


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