Today's guest post is by Peppercommer Ann Barlow.
If I had a nickel for every time I heard a client prospect say, "We were very impressed with your people and ideas. But we've decided to go with another agency based on the all the experience they have in our industry," I would be writing this from a beach somewhere instead of my Peppercom office.
For many of the things we hire people to do — paint our house, operate on our bodies, even sue our enemies — it makes sense to choose the one who has done what we need many times over.
But when it comes to public relations and marketing, how far does experience really get you? Think about it. If you choose an agency based mostly on their knowledge of your industry, the good news is that they can hit the ground running. If that is what is most important, then you probably should select the experienced agency. They'll know the key issues and players in the industry. They'll still need an in immersion session with you and your colleagues, but most of that time will be spent on your particular business, not the broader context. After that, they can start delivering output, whatever form that may take.
But what happens after that? And what if you need to update your image? Introduce a new product or service? Enter new markets? With so much on the line, why would you default to choosing an agency because it's worked with a competitor instead of an ability to deliver a smart strategy and a fresh, creative program?
And after a couple of months, any agency is going to know you and your business. That's what we do. Then you'll REALLY need the creative thinking, because industry knowledge will not be enough to craft and deliver on a program that will help you break through.
I think companies do this because a) they don't think enough about the long term; b) we as human beings tend to go with what's comfortable; c) it feels less risky.
Right now, we are competing for a piece of business where we KNOW we have impressed the company with smart thinking, excellent process and breakthrough ideas. AND we did our homework, so we also came to the table with real knowledge. But we also know we're at a disadvantage to an agency that has been in the prospect's field for many years. The prospect feels comforted by that.
Look, I've been on the other side, too, where a prospect liked that we knew their industry well. But even then, I'd rather be chosen for the excellent work we did over the experience we gained.
I challenge businesses to look beyond experience as the principle criterion for choosing an agency. If not, don't be surprised if your program becomes tired after a few months of operating under the same old frame of reference. You know — same meat, different gravy. Time to try a new dish.
Excellent insight as always, Ann. Sadly, most CCOs and CMOs won’t admit it, but they absolutely subscribe to the old maxim, ‘No one was ever fired for hiring IBM.’ CCOs/CMOs who think about taking a risk and hiring an unknown agency or a firm without deep industry credentials know that someone in the C-suite might question his/her judgment. And, if that should happen, the CCOs/CMOs comfortable retirement is at risk. So, she/he plays it safe and hires one of the usual suspects.