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When Good Ideas Get Expensive

by Miranda Anderson, Digitaria / May 2, 2013

Note: This blog entry is available in English only.

A week or so ago, Crispin Porter + Bogusky’s director of interactive production Tony Tung (@tonyptung) spoke at the Ad Fed Minnesota monthly meeting. Tony’s presentation was geared toward industry professionals, and addressed a lot of the pain points we all experience in the day-to-day attempt to create quality advertising and marketing campaigns. But the thing that stuck with me most, both in what he said and in the questions raised by my peers in the audience, is that our biggest challenges are budget and delivery.

Today’s speed of business demands quicker solutions, and the ever-tightening corporate belt requires marketers to do more with less. Account managers—and indeed the entire agency team—are faced with a new generation of economic problems to solve. I’ve always told clients that there are three qualities of any contracted project: Good, Fast and Cheap — and that you can have two of the three. The challenge for agencies is that, more often than not, we’re pushed to achieve all three.

Scenario: Client sends agency away with a mission to solve their business challenges, build awareness, advocacy or drive sales; they desire something new and fresh.

Solution: After a well-researched and thoughtful discovery, the agency arrives with a phenomenal idea. It’s genuinely unique; the industry has rarely seen an integration of technology and entertainment like it. The idea is destined to achieve greater brand interactions, encourage engagement or purchasing behaviors. The client falls in love, and so the UX and creative teams begin their work, the creative technologists are at the table, building the back end. And then…

Problem: Like a well-written melodrama, the plot thickens. The talent who’s perfect for the spot costs a fortune. The animation for the app can’t be done until we hire a specialist in a different codebase. The licensing for imagery is outrageous. The SEO agency is demanding we completely redesign in m., because they philosophically disagree with mobile adaptive.

If you’re in the ad industry, you’ve been in situations like these before. Finding a solution to this problem marks the pivotal difference between good agencies and great ones — between client relationships that endure, and one-time project engagements.

So how do agencies—masters of time, scope and budget—manage both the client’s expectations, and still knock the deliverable out of the park, proverbially speaking?

1. Confront the issue with transparency and grace. Be honest and upfront with clients when you pitch the idea. Let them know about budget uncertainties before you even get started. Hold regular status updates and talk about the money, even though its an uncomfortable part of the conversation, and significantly less fun than talking about the creative. And when budget problems arise, never play the blame game. Be as thoughtful about the budget as you are about the deliverable, and you’ll be a good partner in resolving cost concerns.

2. Divide and conquer. When the budget, or the scope of the deliverable is in peril, a single solution is never the answer. Provide your client with three options: perhaps they’re a low/high/medium solve, perhaps they de-scope, perhaps they spend more, perhaps it takes longer. When you can find multiple ways to solve the problem, the client will appreciate your professionalism, and will work harder with you to find a way out of danger that’s agreeable to all.

3. Find a way to move forward. Apologize if you’ve made a mistake. Stand by your team if you haven’t. Have a “worst case scenario” meeting that outlines all the possible things that could go wrong with your agreed-upon solve from number 2, and resolve as much as you can, all at one time, so you don’t continue to have the budget conversation week after week. Above all, keep the client and the internal crew focused on the future.




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