Agencies and the commodity temptation

January 18, 2010

The role of the communications agency in political hubs such as Brussels, London and Washington is crammed with potential for exciting work. Issues experts and communications specialists join forces to formulate strategies that help organisatons navigate a complex political landscape…. a landscape that may involve all sorts of players from the pesky blogger to the virulent politician picking up steam in the press, cross-border nuances and awkward political realities, the sudden PR calamity…

It’s a shame then that agencies often fall into the commodity trap, where the goal goes from helping a client reach their business and communications objectives to doing just enough to rack up billable hours. The toolbox – reading up on the latest developments from whatever relevant government department, media monitoring, basic content production, website maintenance, event logistics and so on – become the commodity.

Sure, the dirty work has to be done, and I understand the temptation: the long hours, the lacklustre client, the short-term targets all conspire to lure you into simply doing enough to meet the requirements.

The problem is that as a communicator, you don’t have the luxury of the lawyer or the chemist, who perform tasks which are second-nature to them but which no one would ever dream of replicating without the apposite credentials. Everyone thinks they’re a communicator, and unless you’re challenging clients by offering them added-value thinking, they’ll think they can do it themselves (or get someone else to do it more cheaply.)

So what do you do about it? There’s no trick: it’s all about frame of mind and thinking to yourself that you sell brainpower, not items in a toolbox. So once you’ve developed a strategy and it’s in execution mode, don’t let it go: track your client’s issues on an ongoing basis and constantly revisit your business goals -> communications objectives -> strategy -> tactics chart to ensure that you’re proactively offering them smart ideas that will help them meet their goals. It’ll keep them happy and no doubt help get you more business (and what’s more, it’s a lot more fun and challenging for you, the communicator.)

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