top of page

The Terrain is Unsettled and Varied

By Paulo Ribeiro

Generating smart ideas is *not* the hardest part of developing effective work.


Less than 20 years ago the line between the responsibilities of an outside agency and a client’s marketing organization were crystal clear. Client-side marketing handled marketing strategy, brief development, high-level budget allocation and often measurement. Their products were sold through very established channels (dealerships for cars, wholesale and to a lesser extent owned retail for apparel and shoes, Sports speciality and wholesale retail for equipment etc…). Even as e-commerce was starting to become the force it is today, channels were generally added one at a time. 


What a client paid agencies to do vs. what was executed in house was very consistent. Agencies handled all brand strategy, all varieties of creative development from identity to Super Bowl Spots, Event production, and agencies handled PR strategy and media planning and buying. Anything that fell under the umbrella of creative strategy, ideation or production was handled by an agency. 


And now? All of those agency formats continue to exist in some iteration, and there has been an explosion of additional specializations in e-Commerce, measurement, social, performance marketing, UX and IxD and on and on. While at the same time clients have brought many of the same disciplines in house to some degree. 


But there is no consistency to how and why. Internal creative capabilities on the client side are driven by the nuances of their individual industry, the inclinations of their leadership or sometimes for random legacy reasons. And then the vast majority also employ agencies to finish, up-level or supplement the work that they do in house.

The Terrain is varied, uneven, and often difficult to map out. This has serious implications for how to make effective work.

Generating smart ideas, as difficult as that is, is not the hardest part of developing effective work. The hardest part today is understanding the landscape of how that work might be made - outside, inside or shared - and developing customized work and Go To Market plans with that in mind upfront. Too often this upfront step is skipped which wastes everyone’s time (and client’s money).


To be clear there is a huge difference between being an order taker and asking the client what solution they would like and giving them what they asked for and taking the time to really understand the landscape and come back with an innovative solution. The former isn’t strategic and is a watchout for any client who wants to do effective work. 


The first job today should be canvassing the playing field of capabilities, needs and expectations and mapping that overtly to the team setup on both the in-house client side and the outside partners. The moment is going to happen one way or another. Make that moment happen earlier and there is a greater chance for success overall. Wait to figure out what the playing field is, and one side of the equation is going to look irresponsible. I’ll let you guess which one.

It starts with a messy playing field…

Agencies are used to sharing creds and case studies. And clients, with the seniority to hire, are generally well-trained marketers but the truth of the matter is that they are slammed with an ever growing list of responsibilities. They don’t usually have the time to dig into whether or not the exact setup of an agency is a good key for the lock that is their specific needs. So they look at finished work, think to themselves “I want something like that’ and hope that their team’s can sort it out on the same timeline that the ideas are generated and produced.


…Unclear responsibilities hurt the work quality…

With creatives and strategists on the agency side and client side and a shared desire for everyone to ‘partner’ the line between idea generator and editor of ideas moves around. The client team’s bounce between being creatives and clients sometimes in the same meeting which is unfair to them and everyone involved. Both teams can lose motivation, while the work becomes a slog for all involved. Too bad. With clarity on process upfront: 1+1=3+, without it...well 1-1=0.


…and ends with all that money spent on strategy and ideas being wasted. 

How often have you been in a meeting where good ideas from pages 20 through 87 of a presentation are completely ignored? Assuming the agency is solid and isn’t throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks, this is usually because the client’s are thinking: “That’s ambitious. We don’t have time to figure out how to make that thing with everything else we have on our plates. So we’ll compliment their clever thinking and just hope they don’t follow up.” 


The client is paying the agency to painstakingly develop new work but rarely do the teams talk about process in creative meetings because it's ‘not creative’, we’ll handle that in ‘production’.

Marketing capabilities vary tremendously across client organizations. There is absolutely no consistency between what is in-house vs. outsourced in large companies. Developing breakthrough ideas is the easy part. Tailoring ideas to the unique shape of a client’s organization is where the real work is done.

The problem is that without that discussion upfront the vast majority of that work will ‘make a great meeting’ and never see the light of day. How creative is that?

bottom of page