What the Bachelor Can Teach Us About Client-Agency Relationships
I admit it. I watch a lot of Reality TV. I cry at Say Yes to the Dress and restage half my house after each episode of The Property Brothers. However, I draw the line at The Bachelor. I am clearly in the minority, as the show has run for 23 top-rated seasons.
I refuse to watch because it is the least real of any reality shows; while a soon-to-be bride usually leaves with a dress, and a couple gets a beautiful home, 23 seasons of The Bachelor have resulted in two marriages (and a third to a runner-up after dumping the woman picked on air).
Why so little success? Because the basic premise does not work. A person who shines on a fantasy date—like a hot air balloon ride with champagne and caviar— does not necessarily shine in real life.
Here’s the dating reality show I’d like to see:
For their first date, the couple sets off on a two-hour drive to a mountain cabin for a digital-free weekend of hiking and relaxation. They hit traffic, and the trip takes six hours, including bathroom stops by the side of the road. The cabin bears no resemblance to its online pictures, and it rains all weekend.
On the next date, the couple has to furnish a room from IKEA. They must select the furniture, get it home, and put it together. They end the date sitting on the floor.
On the third date, it gets serious—a friend, parent, or pet is sick. It’s helpful to see when the going gets tough, if your date gets going—as in, gone.
I am not saying that couples that ace these dating challenges will get married and stay married. I am saying that if they succeed here, they have a better chance of long-term success because these dates resemble real life.
Which brings me to the agency pitch. The pitch is The Bachelor of the advertising world. It meets some emotional needs but is not the best way to select a long-term agency partner. Because the skills and behaviors required to win a pitch are different than the skills and behaviors to keep and grow business. Here’s why:
For agencies, pitches are an opportunity to win new business. A winning pitch creates great buzz and can lead to more pitches.
For agency staff, pitches are exhilarating. The best and brightest get to brainstorm without the limits of budgets or legal reviews.
For clients, pitches are an opportunity to get new ideas and invigorate the brand.
They feature big ideas, grand gestures, cutting-edge thinking, and great food.
Pitches are the hot air balloon, champagne, and caviar date of advertising. Sadly, they don’t predict the long-term success of a client-agency relationship.
Any agency (or date) can be at their best for a few weeks. The real test is how the agency holds up over time in the real world, despite its limitations and frustrations.
Once clients award the business, they have the day-to-day experience of working with the agency. They know the quality of the work and whether it’s fulfilling their needs. They know whether they look forward to agency meetings. They know if their brand is in trouble, whether their first call would be to the agency. Or not.
In fact, when a current agency is thrown into a review situation, a great presentation should not override months or years of bad experiences. The reverse is also true: a less-than-stellar presentation should not outweigh actual positive experiences with the agency.
That’s why assignments should be awarded based on current agency performance.
This change could have a profound effect on the client-agency dynamic. If new assignments are awarded based on ongoing performance, agencies are encouraged to invest their best talent and resources in current, not potential, clients. Agencies would focus on client satisfaction and experience, brand growth, organic growth, and long-term partnerships. The agency would be incentivized to continue the most expansive part of a pitch—stepping outside everyday assignments and imagining the future direction of the brand. Clients would be happier, more engaged, and focused on brand stewardship rather than agency management. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve helped it happen, at several agencies.
Most importantly, it would value long-term partnerships over the quick win. I can even imagine a time when reality TV gets the message: The Bachelor celebrating not an engagement or wedding but staying married. That is finale material.
Stacey Singer is a Client Retention and Growth Specialist.
You can reach her at (908) 313-6539 or Stacey@staceysinger.com.