Four Huge Agency Mistakes

I was talking with an agency creative chief the other day and she asked me what I thought were the biggest mistakes than an event agency can make. There are some obvious things like missing deadlines or just not doing good work, but there are four errors that I consider the biggest, most fundamental and most destructive mistakes:

Overstating Capabilities – Every business should know what it does and does not do well. No agency can do everything well and it is a great concern to me when an agency promises to take on everything from A-to-Z without blinking an eye. There are few agencies—perhaps none—that have the resources to do everything.

With that said, it is imperative that agencies have a very clear sense of their mission and capabilities. I would much rather an agency tell me that something is beyond their capabilities than to commit to something and mess it up.

My advice: know what you do well and don’t promise to do things you can’t.

Not Listening to Client Input – Many clients don’t really know what they want. We clients understand. We are tremendously sorry about this. But as a client, when I ask for something it means that it should be placed highly on the agency checklist in preparing a presentation or program.

I will often be very specific as to my budget for a particular program, yet agencies like to come back and “show me what could be done” with more money. I get it. I often say that every experience would be better if U2 were playing, but that’s not going to happen.

My advice: show me first that you listened to the request. If I am happy with Step One, then maybe we’ll explore alternatives together. Not listening to the specifics is a deal breaker.

Misrepresenting their Work – Both clients and agencies love to measure things. An agency should never, ever, ever misrepresent their work by changing their numbers to make them look better. The last thing I want is a smarty in my finance department looking at the results and asking me, “Joe, how is it possible that 1,000 people attended this experience when it was open for 500 minutes and takes five minutes for each person to go through it?” That conversation kills me.

Agencies need to understand that what they sell are those numbers and faking the numbers is not only highly unethical, but it can make their clients look bad too.

My advice: be honest. If the results are bad, make suggestions on how to improve them.

Overpromising What Can Be Delivered – “Can you really do that?” I often find myself asking. If the answer is yes, then you’d best be able to do it. There is often risk in trying new things, but if you are promising to deliver something to a client then you should know what those risks are and understand how to mitigate them.

My advice: disclose risks up front and above all else be realistic of what you can deliver.

Making these mistakes can lead to very hard lessons. Usually, it leads to the end of a client-agency relationship.

Be realistic, be honest and be clear about what you do every day. If you do that, then you will do good work and that will lead to the next good thing coming your way.

Joe English is Creative Director for the Intel Developer Forums at Intel Corporation. Joe is a creative professional, marketer, photographer and writer by trade. In addition to his work on the Developer Forums worldwide, he has recently managed film launches at the Sundance Film Festival, Presidential visits to Intel and led the creative for the re-design of the Intel corporate museum in Silicon Valley.