What do clients really want from their agencies?

Linda Zid

October 11, 2018

As the trend of clients bringing creative work in-house continues to escalate, agencies are realizing the need to rethink their pitches. In a recent Content Marketing Institute webinar sponsored by OpenText Hightail, Susan Baier of Audience Audit Inc. and Drew McLellan of Agency Management Institute offered up some assistance with their study on when, what and why clients outsource to agencies. They brought with them three classic assumptions:

  • Size matters – Having smaller internal departments would mean more work was outsourced.
  • It’s always about the money – Clients would choose to bring work in-house because agencies are too expensive.
  • Clients are always looking for big ideas – Being too tactical and trying to get work done might be disappointing to clients.

Those assumptions were pretty far from what their research found, but McLellan said that being wrong is actually a big part of why they do the research. “We all go out into the world to sell our agencies and to pitch new business and build up our team in the way that we think,” McLellan said. “And this kind of research helps us do that with informed knowledge, rather than our own assumptions.”

In reality, size actually didn’t matter in the way McLellan and Baier thought it would, and it was the bigger teams that were more likely to outsource. And cost actually was only a concern for 32 percent of respondents in their research, with getting work done quickly being the concern for the most respondents (45 percent). Lastly, when it came to big ideas, many clients did turn to trusted agencies for strategic insights, but that scored low (16 percent) as an actual concern.

The research also identified just how competitive the agency life can be. Half of the clients were working with two to three agencies at a time, and 84 percent said key decision makers were actually trying to keep the work in-house.

McLellan and Baier stressed the importance of providing messaging that’s targeted toward the right types of clients for your agency. They identified three segments, based on attitudes to help improve targeting:

  1. “Resident experts” have big budgets and big teams, but no faith in their organizations’ own marketing effort—and they therefore outsource frequently.
  2. The “take the reigns” segment has tight budgets, small teams and no expertise—but they would like to outsource as often as they can afford
  3. “Specialist seekers” have everything from strategy and trends to tactics well under control, but need experts for special projects.

Baier acknowledged that it’s a different way of thinking about clients that also can be beneficial to figuring out who the right clients for your organization are. “It can take a little practice to put some of your demographic assumptions aside and instead focus on a deeper understanding of attitude.”

They offered several tips and suggestions for messaging toward each of the three attitudes. For example, since “resident experts” tend to outsource so much work, it’s important to make it easy for them to give you work and work with you with tools such as collaborative software.

“As you hear this data and as you think about how you can approach clients to try and get more of the work that they’re bringing in-house … just remember that you’re not the only one in the mix,” McLellan said.

For more information about how to provide the right messaging to the right types of clients for your organization, watch the webinar on demand.