Opinion

The true cost of a cheap agency

Choosing the cheapest agency is a grave mistake, argues Joel Trethowan, the CEO and co-founder of Alchemy One.

It baffles me that in 2018 I still find myself trying to convince potential clients why the entire customer experience is imperative for a brand to truly win in market. We’re often briefed with the job of driving strong acquisition targets across a defined period, no surprise there.

Joel Trethowan: “What does the entire customer experience look like?”

Where the conversation hits a brick-wall is when I start probing questions about the owned channel strategy, beyond the paid investment. Will we be driving this? If not, who and what does the entire customer experience look like?

The client response is often a head turn, a deflection or a push that the core focus here is acquisition. At this point my eyes wander, I scratch my ear and begin losing interest as I internally sigh that I am again faced with a brand that doesn’t inherently understand the complete customer experience.

Clients still aren’t seeing the equity in building their owned assets, but are happy to invest in paying for audiences to come and experience a sub-par experience. I blame marketers and especially their agencies for this. So many agencies are just sitting on their hands advocating spending money to try and grab attention but aren’t frank enough to tell their clients the honest truth about their owned experience. Instead of proposing true ways to drive optimisation and conversion, they’re too scared of rocking the boat, or god forbid (scream emoji) spending a few more proactive hours when the steady workflow feels just about right for the client and even more right for the agency.

Even more surprising is often the work we inherit or are exposed to. Whether it’s campaign setups, or reports where ridiculous amounts of media “investment” is literally wasted on channels that performed absolutely horribly, with no accountability or even care. Some clients aren’t even guided by their agencies to use some of the simplest or even free tools in market to help power their client’s brands. Free onsite or offsite optimisation tools, dynamic creative or even live reporting dashboards to help empower marketers to understand and act.

If your agency isn’t probing, asking questions and trying to not only understand, but drive innovation and strategic thinking across your entire ecosystem, then there is a problem.  The market is literally evolving every day, new advancements with Google Marketing Platform, the launch of IGTV, the demise of Facebook and the ghost town that is LinkedIn, just to name a few.

Your agency should be frank and honest, keeping you abreast and partnering with you to keep on top of how you can strategically reach your overall KPI’s efficiently and effectively in both the short, medium and long term. I understand we are often one of many partners and I can hear the screams of ‘stay in your lane’ from agency folk, but wake up all, thinking in lanes is long gone and lies in a graveyard somewhere with the 4 P’s of marketing (RIP). Everything today needs to be interlinked and connected, otherwise the customer experience will always be compromised.

The best brands in market are understanding and connecting with their audiences in a personalised and authentic way across every channel. They have a true identity. To achieve this they need passionate and dedicated partners who can align and deliver on that vision with vigour and velocity. Brands that don’t understand this will be gone sooner than they realise, as their agile competitors adapt and change.

Clients choosing their agency based on the cheapest rate, is still a sad reality. Cheap is cheap for a reason, either junior staff, offshore talent, opaque transparency or not delivering on the hours committed. Cost is relative, and the cheapest will always cost more in the long term. Instead of finding a cheaper way, you should always be trying to find a smarter way, but sadly the realisation of this comes at a much later point for some.

Anyone can build brand awareness quickly and drive engagement, all you need is money. It’s much harder to create a strategy and build a brand plan with relevance that aligns to consumers’ expectations with a long-term focus.

In 2018, a brand can’t afford to have an agency that isn’t honest, innovative, frank, passionate and dedicated to its vision.

Is yours?

Joel Trethowan is the co-founder and CEO of Alchemy One

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