Consultancy with Conscience…?

I wonder if it’s Santa. Photo via jurvetson. Usual rules apply.
After what seems to be a (sadly) typical four month pause in blog posts, I’ve decided to get off my arse and write another. Prompted by Neil’s excellent Firestarters evening at Google, I began to think a little bit about agencies, and just what will endure or be left behind in the next ten to twenty years and beyond.
I’ve talked a little bit about my slight skepticism about the notion of ‘agile’. I think it works well from the get go, when it’s a founding principle, but when you’re dealing with disconnected/disassociated big businesses whose PR and Advertising departments don’t even talk to one another, it starts to ring a little hollow.
To be honest, I think that it’s a good principle, but won’t work all of the time. For an agency like Made by Many, who make their name on iterative development and working in close proximity with clients and as a smaller business, it makes sense.
Now, what I’m really interested in is attitudes and behaviours which foster good work. Organising principles are all well and good, but they can easily gather dust if the mindset’s not right inside and outside of the business.
The one thing I want to think about today is conscience. Since the beginning of the agency world, every half-decent shop has realised what’s needed it is a strong professional conscience – it doesn’t matter what type of employee you are. All considered folks realise that yes, the work’s difficult at times, joyous at others – but there’s really only one method of ensuring you don’t go mad, whether you work all the hours given, or have an enviable ability to get everything done, please the client and have a life outside of the day job.
It’s a sense of good conscience. The best places know that they’ve set parameters with their client ahead of time (often odiously referred to as ‘managing expectations’ on occasion, which sounds like an excuse for a fuck-up) and if something’s thrown this into doubt, have had the wherewithal to raise it with their clients quickly.
In all honesty, they’ve behaved like a proper consultancy, not just a simple provider of service. In my experience, providers of a service and nothing more get taken advantage of. I must confess, to thinking back to my long running part time job between University; there were similar situations where people had no empathy when you were busy and short staffed, asking for everything now or sooner, if possible.
Those people are just as likely to come with an MBA and live within a Marketing department as they are to sit in a burger queue or be after a pint at your local. So, if we acknowledge that those people exist, why not deal with them honestly, demonstrating a considered professional opinion and setting what can/can’t be done ahead of time?
The further splintering of creative disciplines promulgates this ‘can’t you just?’, service only approach – it’s too easy to treat each part of the puzzle as that and nothing more. People chase after easy to prove ‘vanity metrics’ (a wonderful phrase, nicked from Neil’s event) which are short-term and satisfy that their ‘bit’ of the puzzle is working.
If a client has chosen to split their budget across a spectrum of agencies, and there’s no clear lead (as would appear to be happening more frequently these days), then it’s got to fall to the group to set decent, longer term measures and not just fight for control over their bit or a little more.
To promote your way of working as the best in this scenario just doesn’t ring true. It comes across as more agency willy-waving. Be shown to be the agency with the conscience, those who are empathetic to what goes on in the agency circle/with the client, along with explaining why something can or can’t be done, and I’m sure rewards will follow.
You’ll be respected for your counsel, something which appears to have gone missing in the search for dwell time and youtube hits. When it doesn’t work (which happens), you’ll be in a better position not to throw the baby out with the bathwater and just change the creative/approach. It’s got to about learning, not lurching from execution to execution without a guiding principle or pre-set parameters.
Agencies shown to have good consciences will be able to (shock!) answer the client back if they don’t agree, behaving more like they used to. After all, you SHOULD be employed for your point of view, not just because you can argue the production company to do it a couple of grand cheaper, or ensure celebrity x turns up to party y.
Mystique will only get so far. And, to be honest, the only way to start fires is to behave like a considered, thoughtful, conscience-riddled grown up, not like some reactionary child.