Depending on the type of consultancy you are thinking about creating, there is a very good chance that you will find yourself working with other agencies and consultancies as your clients.
Indeed, if you plan on being a specialist shop, you may always find yourself working with agencies as clients.
Working with agencies has many advantages, to be sure. There can also be some challenges. But for all but a select few consultancies, other agencies will be a significant component of your work for a long period of time.
This is, on the face of it, not necessarily an obvious notion. Many people, when starting a services shop, envision themselves working primarily -- or exclusively -- with brands.
Early on in your career, it’s worthwhile to develop a plan and a point of view when it comes to working with agencies. Do you want to work primarily for agencies? Now? Forever? What is your ultimate goal?
For us, agencies were a means to an end. My partner Benjamin said more than once, “Working with agencies allows us to work on a larger stage with larger brands. One day we will be able to do this on our own. But for now, they are necessary.”
This was our plan: to work with agencies for as long as it took to grow our business, establish our reputation, and hone our craft. Over time, we would wean ourselves off of them.
Other shops I know work exclusively with other agencies and love it. They love not having to deal with clients. They love working on projects they wouldn’t get otherwise. They love the ease of repeat work. This is totally okay. Develop a plan.
The Advantages of Working With Other Agencies
Low Cost of Winning Work
Perhaps the greatest advantage for the specialist shop that is working with other agencies is the low cost of winning the work. If, for example, you are a UX or a digital product consultancy, winning work directly from clients can be a time-consuming process. In many cases, the client is almost completely uneducated about your offering, the challenges in the marketplace, or the very basics of developing, say, an iOS app (these specific examples will, of course, eventually be dated, but the concept will remain).
If this particular client has a lead agency, however, that agency can bear a lot of the heavy lifting on that sale, teaching the client and establishing the strategic need. This is a bunch of work you will not have to do.
Low project acquisition costs are also reinforced by the fact that you only have to maintain good relationships with a few key agencies, and they can then bring multiple projects to you. It’s only so often that a brand needs a new website, or iOS app, or even a print ad. The agency, by contrast, often needs these things, as their whole raison d’être is to get their clients up to speed on the latest brand and marketing techniques.
One more low-acquisition-cost benefit: often with agency work, you don’t have to pitch to win the job. That is the agency’s problem. At least, you don’t have to pitch in the traditional sense, with a giant presentation, a dog and pony show, comped boards, and so on.
Early in our company’s history, we were chasing a large job with Goodby and Saturn. I went all out on the pitch. Comps, detailed wireframes, a massive strategy document, all totaling some 60 pages in proposal form. The producer at Goodby said, “This is great, but I really just need a one-pager with your price and timing.” I sent it. Boom. Done. I never had to send anything OTHER than simple pricing and timing to Goodby for years, at least, until the jobs got more daring, more complex, and higher budget.
Being able to win jobs by just sending in pricing and timing, and maybe a paragraph of thinking is glorious. Wonderful. Advertising nirvana. Agencies -- good agencies -- can provide this.
Work With People Who Know What They’re Doing (Relatively Speaking)
Another concrete luxury of working with agencies as clients is that they have a robust account service corps. They are responsible for maintaining the relationship with the client. You are not. This is great. I cannot overemphasize how wonderful it is not to have to deal with angry clients. This is not to say you won’t have to maintain your relationship with the agency, but by and large, this is a far less difficult undertaking.
Agency people are busy. They want problem solvers; they want you to get things done.
By working with agencies, you can keep your relationships with your clients -- the agencies -- lightweight. One or two people should be able to maintain your relationship with five to 10 agencies. By contrast, maintaining relationships with five to 10 brand clients, directly, can require a minimum of ten and up to thirty or forty people.
Remember: in the beginning at a high-growth services company, your goal is to bring in as many quality billings as quickly and cheaply as possible. Doing this without having to hire a robust account staff serves both of these goals.
Work With More Sophisticated Clients Faster
We are referring specifically to the sophistication of the work and the quality of the brand.
Now, far be it from me to claim that agencies have a handle on the outermost realms of digital marketing, but I can say working for GM, Pepsi, Nike, or a car company will get your shop noticed faster than a bunch of work for local bars and restaurants, even if they are really, really cool.
Some people may understand this work comes through another agency, and some of them may count that against you, but they are few and far between. By and large, your work will be noticed more, and your opportunities to do better work are expanded if you work for higher quality brands.