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Three amazingly true tales of where client agency communications have gone wrong

client agency communications
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This post is by Darren Woolley, Founder of TrinityP3With his background as analytical scientist and creative problem solver, Darren brings unique insights and learnings to the marketing process. He is considered a global thought leader on agency remuneration, search and selection and relationship optimisation.

Marketing and advertising are in the communications business, right? Where we communicate with an audience to persuade them to do something like thinking positively about our brand, placing our brand on the consideration list or even buying the brand next time they are shopping. So you would think as professional communication people we would have this communicating thing down pat.

But it can sometimes seem that this professional skill only applies to when we are planning a communication with our target audiences. Here are three true, real life, honest to God examples of where communication breakdowns between the agency and the client have gone wrong and someone has ended up paying for it (usually the client in cash and the agency in reputation and relationship breakdown).

The one about the balloon artwork

The devil is in the detail as the saying goes. This was a massive multichannel campaign with television, outdoor, social and digital media, events and more. There was not a channel that was not covered as this was to be the major product launch for the company and the future success rode on the back of a great launch.

The agency had been working non-stop getting everything ready for the deadline, but what made the whole relationship unravel was a balloon.

A product launch logo had been designed for the campaign that captured the brand name and product promise all in one. This was to be used across all of the channels, especially the in-store events, where the consumer would be seeing and experiencing the product for the first time.

So when it came to how this logo would be placed on inflatable rubber balloons the client was shocked to find in the post launch reconciliation that there were charges for almost $12,000 and this did not include the actual supply and printing of the balloons with the product launch logo. In fact most of the charges were design and artwork changes with the associated account management and studio costs. Why?

We were asked that very same question and it appears that when the artwork for the logo was presented to the Assistant Brand Manager it was labelled “Balloon Art”. But there was only the Logo artwork and no balloon.

The Account Manager explained that they just supplied the artwork to the printer of the balloons and they would size it and print it. But the Assistant Brand Manager demanded that they provide the logo in position on a balloon before they could approve it. So back to the agency, where it was explained to the Studio Manager that the client wanted to see the balloon logo artwork with a balloon.

The studio manager briefed the designer who drew an outline of a balloon with a knot and a string and they positioned the logo inside the outline of the balloon, printed out the file and mounted it and sent it back to the Account Manager to re-present for approval.

The Assistant Brand Manager saw the artwork and was disturbingly happy, because they could now see that the logo would be too small and that the agency needed to enlarge the logo. So back to the agency the artwork went. Make the logo bigger. The Production Manager pointed out that the size of the logo would depend on the printer’s technology and that there was a limit to the size. This was passed on to the Assistant Brand Manager along with the revised artwork.

The Assistant Brand Manager was insistent that the logo needed to be bigger and so it went back and forwards until more that a dozen iterations later, the Brand Manager asked what was taking so long with the artwork.

They were told that the agency could not get the logo size right. This had been a recurring theme throughout the project, with the agency constantly minimising the prominence of the product logo.

But just before the Brand Manager picked up the phone to blast the agency, the Assistant Brand Manager showed the latest round of artwork changes (Lucky number 13). The Brand Manager stopped and told them to approve it and send the logo to the balloon printer as the size of the logo is determined by the printing equipment and ultimately by the amount of hot air you pump into the balloon. It was a $12,000 lesson in communication leading to understanding.

client agency communications

The one about the shoot location

A client contacted us because the production estimate for their next television commercial had just landed in their inbox and it was about $120,000 more than what they had budgeted for and they had no additional funding options except to short the media buy.

They were also concerned as the concept was very similar to their previous campaign six months earlier and yet the agency could not explain the additional costs.

Set on location with two actors it appeared fairly straightforward except on closer look the crew costs and the inclusion of two half-day travel days for the cast and crew had effectively doubled the cost of the shoot component, approximately the $120,000 that the total estimate was over. There was also a significant cost in there for location and tellingly a low location search cost.

Talking with the Agency Producer it was revealed that the shoot was to be on location in the Southern Highlands and that this was the reason for the travel day to and from the location as it was about 3 hours drive each way.

This travel time would significantly eat into the planned 10 hour shoot day and so the production company had allowed an additional half day for crew and equipment to go to the location and a half day to come back so that they would have the full 10 hours to shoot with the possibility of a two hour overrun.

But why shoot in the Southern Highlands? Yes, it is a beautiful part of New South Wales but even with the freeway it is a reasonable drive out of Sydney and some of the roads would be quite narrow for a 10 tonne equipment truck and generator to navigate.

But the answer to this came via the Account Director of the agency, who had noted at the time of presenting the concept that the Marketing Director had loved the idea and even pointed out that there was a property near his weekender in Kangaroo Valley that would be an ideal location for the shoot.

When we reported back to the Marketing Director that much of the additional cost was because of the use of the location he had suggested, he was confused. He was simply trying to be helpful by suggesting the location, which the agency had interpreted as a mandate, with all of the cost implication associated with that location being paid for by the client.

In actual fact there were, as there usually are, many solutions on how to achieve the desired result of the television commercial script. In the end a solution was found that satisfied all and did not involve a drive down the Hume Freeway for cast and crew.

The Marketing Director noted that he needed to be more careful when he was trying to be helpful.

client agency communications

The one about the replacement production manager

Finally, a client contacted us very confused as their agency production costs had dropped and while they were not complaining, they were concerned that something had gone wrong that could come back to bite them later. They were wondering if we could help.

The first thing we did was meet and look at what it was that helped them identify their costs had dropped. In the meeting they presented a series of production estimates for the regular campaign work that the agency produced each month. Sure enough on a particular date the cost on the estimate dropped by more than 10% and stayed there for the coming month.

Taking a closer look at the estimates we noticed that the Agency Production Manager who prepared and signed off the estimates had also changed. Perhaps the new production manager had a different approach to estimating and charging these jobs. We suggested to the client that they ask about this new name on the agency estimates.

They did and it turned out that the agency production manager had taken long service leave for three months and there was a freelance production manager filling the gap. We recommended that they wait for the usual production manager to return to the agency and see if the cost went back up and to enjoy the lower cost in the meantime.

Three months passed and the client knew the old production manager was back at the agency because the production estimates went back up to the old costs. They contacted us and we went with them to meet the agency. At the meeting was the Agency CEO, Head of Client Services, the Account Director on the account and the Production Manager and the freelance Production Manager who was staying on.

We laid out the estimates, having chosen three examples of almost identical production requirements. One from before the freelancer was working, one from the freelancer and then one since the return of the agency Production Manager from long service leave.

It was clear there was a significant cost difference and because they were similar you could also tell the cause of the cost difference. Most of the agency team looked perplexed until the freelancer spoke up and pointed out that when they commenced, at the hand-over the production manager had told them that if they had any questions that all of the client contracts were held by the agency Finance Director.

They had taken it upon themselves to check all of the contracts to ensure that they were estimating and invoicing to contract and in the process delivered a cut to the cost of the client’s production by not charging for those things that the agency usually added such as archiving, file retrieval, pdf creation, working colour lasers etc, because they were excluded by the contract.

But here was the issue, who was in the wrong? The freelance Production Manager was working to the contract, while the agency Production Manager was following agency procedure and practice and in the process the Marketing Team approved the estimates even though they were not compliant to the agreed contract terms and conditions.

The contract was signed and stored in the Finance Director’s filing cabinet and it was clear that the Account Management team knew about it, and perhaps the client didn’t know about it either. In the end it was decided that the agency would simply proceed from this point on estimating and billing to the contract.

Funny stories by not funny lessons

Miscommunications. Misalignment of expectations. Misrepresentation. Misunderstanding. Misinterpretation.

None of this was malicious; in fact in most cases the parties were completely unaware of the consequences of their actions. Yet we all work in a communications industry. Perhaps if we practiced clear, concise and open communications with each other and put the effort into this in the same way we put the time and effort into our communications campaigns, the whole process would run so much smoother.

Our Relationship Performance Evaluation service measures collaboration and alignment between marketing team agencies to maximise your collaborative output. Find out more

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Darren is considered a thought leader on all aspects of marketing management. A Problem Solver, Negotiator, Founder & Global CEO of TrinityP3 - Marketing Management Consultants, founding member of the Marketing FIRST Forum and Author. He is also a Past-Chair of the Australian Marketing Institute, Ex-Medical Scientist and Ex-Creative Director. And in his spare time he sleeps. Darren's Bio Here Email: darren@trinityp3.com

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