07 July 2010

The Problem

There are a lot of problems in the Design / Agency / Consulting world.

Right now one of the big (and growing) ones is what I think of as "the problem of Gaps."

What I mean by this is quite simple really - but it's something no-one talks about.

Right now the "Gaps" I'm speaking of exist in two planes.

First - when we talk about the temporal process that Clients and Agencies go through in creating something new, it's often described something like:
  1. Identify Need / Opportunity,
  2. Define Audience,
  3. Identify Objective / Goals,
  4. Develop Strategy,
  5. Create Plan,
  6. Design Solution,
  7. Execute Solution.
A good client is really good at some of these and less good at others. A good agency is really good at some of these and less good at others. The theory is that you add the two together and you get "really good at all of these."

The truth is that (like most theories) this rarely if ever translates to reality. What you get instead are two entities with strengths that are partially complementary, and partially incompatible. Instead of a whole greater than the sum of its parts - you get two parts that refuse to sum into a whole. You get Gaps.

And these Gaps is where problems happen. Everyone who works in an Agency has had the experience of working with a client who is incapable of communicating (or perhaps defining) their Audience or Customers Base. And every Client has had the experience of working with an Agency that cannot accurately turn Business Strategy into Creative Direction.

These Gaps often manifest as communication issues - or incomplete or unsatisfactory deliverables. They're often the result of Definition misunderstandings.

And they're responsible for much of the pain in the Client - Consultancy world.

Second - Agencies are not like Clients. That's obvious, but it's important.

Every (good) account manager and every (good) client point of contact has had the experience of feeling like they're a translator at a disarmament negotiation. Where their jobs end up being the person who not only is translating language, but between cultures.

The Gap between Agencies and Clients is another massive point of failure.

Now... the few of you who have read this far are probably thinking "umm.... Agencies have got Planners, Agencies have got Account Managers, Agencies have got Creative Directors..."

Yeah... firms do have people with those titles.
And in some cases they actually are supposed to do the things I've described (and can in fact deliver on them).

But almost all Account Managers these days are Sales People (who spend some time managing their client). And almost all Planners these days are doing jobs that have been narrowed and "de-strategized" to the point where all they do is run qualitative research, justify direction and write tactical briefs. And Creative Directors either spend most of their time doing Business Development, some of their time doing triage on projects that are off the rails and some of their time speaking or they are actually Design Directors (highly tactical in nature). Even the folks who can do what is needed to bridge these gaps are usually not allowed to (often cloaked as "much too busy").

This situation is a logical result of Agencies following the money - because the money is in tactics. It's not in helping the client with strategy. It's not in the consultative side of the business. It is in Tactical Planning and Execution.

And as a result.... we get Gaps. Gaps where things fall apart. Gaps where projects and programs fail.

Clients hire Agencies and Service firms to help them solve their problems - because Clients don't know how to solve them (otherwise they wouldn't hire these firms). But the Gap between the Client knowing there is a problem and the Agency having a solution - compounded by the Gap between the cultures and languages and values of each creates unacceptable odds of failure.

And these Gaps are getting bigger.

Bridging these Gaps is an increasingly important part of planning for success.


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