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The idea, or the idea process

June 2, 2008

So, in thinking about the relationship between client and agency, I was intrigued by what I read here:

“Clients who value your designs are good. Clients who also value your design process are better.”

Obviously any agency would rather have a client that values the creative process more than the creative. One is a partnership, the other is a vendor relationship. The partnership is more stable, and thus more rewarding.

That made me think about the dilemma that agencies are most likely facing as they attempt to embrace digital. Since it’s moving so fast, it’s often quite reactionary.

A senior client reads about Twitter in the Times, and next thing you know, he’s got a feed coming from a major industry event. Another senior person at a client sees all the news on Facebook and wants to get involved.

And while the agency might already be dabbling in executions that use these tools, the agency didn’t go to the client with the idea, the client went to the agency.

With executions. Executions that, since they are new media, are hard to talk the client out of. Think about it, how does an agency tell a client that they shouldn’t use Twitter or get into Facebook. Twitter is the hot talk of the new media, and Facebook is, well, Facebook. Both tools are being used by marketers to engage customers. And both tools are essentially free. So, why not?

Sure, we can point clients in the right manner to manage these executions. But that’s where I’ll take you back to the original quote, with a tweak:

Clients who value ideas are good. Clients who value the idea process are better.

So we can show the first client some of the tricks they can use on Twitter, like using TinyUrl, and aggregating all the feeds of all their employees into one place to show a big picture of the company and the kind of thinking that they do. This is sort of like a corporate blog, without the need to blog.

Likewise, we can offer our other client executions on their goal of getting into Facebook. We can suggest reporting, and applications that might go on their page but that’s also just helping out with the execution. And even though we can do a wonderful job on both, we’ll simply be tweaking an idea — not creating it. We won’t really be showing off our idea process.

Obviously, agencies need to be able to get to the beginning of the process to prove the value of their ideas. When we’re playing catch up, reacting to a demand that a client makes as they gravitate to the next hot thing, we have less credibility. We have to work a little harder to tell them how to use it well, and even back-track to show them why. And that kind of counsel might be enough to stop them from jumping in next time.

In future, it might be a better option to talk them out of Twitter or Facebook, and show them why something else might work better. Assuming, of course, that we have a better answer.

And really, that’s the trick, right? Either getting in front of clients requesting a new social media tool, or knowing enough about them to offer another answer. Both not easy, but both part of the idea process.

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