Ask your agency to stop wasting time, tracking time,

Creative agency services are often measured by the hour. Clients need to know how much a creative effort will cost them, and budgets are created to cast a light on the creative process (=a dangerous dark sea of uncertainty to many). It is hard to measure, yet we try again and again based on two parameters: the number of hours and the cost per hour.

One problem is that often creatives are asked to come up with innovative solutions. Innovation implies creating something new that has not been seen before. Businesses ask for this to stand out, or maybe just to solve an old problem better than before, or better than the competition. We got tired of the old, lets make something new!

Here comes the classic question: how do you measure something that has not yet been invented? You use your experience and your sense of what this particular client really wants; what you think they will settle with or what they aim for (also: can we, the agency, exploit this project to win us an award?). Based on this, the best guess is put forward. Because that is what it is. Guesstimate, Ball park… the child has many names.

The second problem is the team. You might encounter someone young, fast and full of ideas. Or you are proposed a senior level, experienced creative, with loads of baggage from troubled projects in the past, who therefore asks too many bloody questions. Who do you prefer? And why does one cost more than the other? Why does one need twice as much time as the other? Will price or more hours guarantee me a better solution? No, they wont.

It just doesn’t make sense to purchase creative projects by the hour. Most agencies will always estimate their efforts, so the final price matches an imagined or real positioning in the market (‘are we cheaper or more expensive than other comparable agencies’). Or they will be matching a requested price range from the client because they want the job. So it is calculated to fit, and only serves as a mirage to convince everybody that people know what they are doing.

The truth is that agencies can use all the time (read money) you throw at them. This is in their nature: they are insatiable beasts that need feeding to survive.

So what are you, the client, to do? Focus on the outcomes of the project. Value is something all agencies know you might request, and hence will tell you they provide. But insist on not discussing hours. Instead take the lead as buyer of these products. Tell the agency what budget you expect to have and the deadline you would like to meet. Also explain the outcomes you wish to see, and then ask for a short description on how the agency suggests to solve this within the limits. But be realistic. As they say: quality, time and money only go well in pairs, not in a trio.

So allow the agency to come up with descriptions on solutions. Let them spot the potential and best solution for you. Allow to reuse parts of old solutions where it makes sense. Let them put together teams so it mathces the current flow in the agency. Let them look at problem solving, within the constraints, instead of guessing the constraints in estimates. Let your agency think smart, and come with smart solutions.

All this is easier when you are in for a longer lasting close relationship with the agency. When you reach a point of real trust, that you both gain over time, not by the hour.

By Jesper Fagerlund,