touting capabilities you just don’t have

AdPulp, with impetus from AdAge’s Small Agency Diary, brought up a situation that I have seen first hand from agencies big and small – pitching clients on capabilities that the agency doesn’t really have.

Or at least doesn’t really have in-house.

To quote from the post: “90% of the small agencies out there chasing interactive business have one guy on staff who knows anything, and if they’re lucky maybe a Flash developer. According to my buddy, they’re subcontracting all their development work to him, and he’s growing at 50%. And the word from my friends on the client side is that every agency knocking on their doors can show you at least one respectable interactive program. Just don’t scratch too deep.”

Whether its small agencies that pitch against the House of Biz touting interactive capabilities that we know (because the agency world is small and if they’re not from your town just ask Agency Spy to get the scoop) don’t have the interactive capabilities that we do/that they say they do or it’s big agencies and holding companies that are forced to make expensive purchases of smaller firms to shore up the gaping interactive-shaped hole in their portfolio, this situation is very real.

It’s not that surprising either.

The thinking on the agency side, if I may paraphrase, is that an interactive project is incremental income and anyway who cares if we have to outsource it because we’re still leading it from a thought and usually a design perspective and if we left this to a client or another agency they would just fuck it up. The client pays us to come up with solutions and this is just one of those solutions…one of those solutions that comes with a markup.

Is that fair to clients?

Only if the goods are delivered…clients really do hire agencies to solve problems and keep looking to the next best thing and sometimes that means doing things that the agency has no in-house expertise at. As long as it gets done and it gets done right, does it really matter how it all works on the back end (especially if it wins you that new piece of business or big chunk of incremental income)?

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2 responses to “touting capabilities you just don’t have

  1. I saw this. On the one hand, they’re faking it. Badly.
    On the other, you get what you pay for. It’s like hiring a house painter and then asking him if he also refinishes floors. He may well say yes, but you’re not getting a professional floor guy and you kinda know that off the bat.

    I see lots of mid-size shops in the same boat, especially DM shops where the web component is very response-driven (e.g. banners with the same 10% off or free for 30 days offers as the mail pieces.) But then again, it’s the rare small shop that mostly does TV.

  2. If you can outsource it and pass it off as your own, or at least pass it off at the same level of quality as your own, (indeed, if it *is* the same quality of what you do and you know this because this is a tried-and-true partner you have worked with in the past) there is nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s better to do that then try to get one of your guys who kinda knows what he’s doing to fake it, crossing your fingers the whole time that it’s gonna work out.

    The part that had me gritting my teeth was the fact that interactive business was called “incremental.” A sort of nod in that direction to the (limited) value – albeit not ignorable (read:some sarcasm in tone of voice here) – of interactive work being done today. But that could be because I work for one of those interactive agencies. It might also be because I am watching the shift in advertising dollars (like the rest of the world) tip from offline to online. Time to wake up and realize that interactive work is no longer incremental. And thought leaders that have the skills to put an integrated campaign together across offline and online channels work for interactive-(focused) agencies as well…

    On a side note… love your blog. šŸ™‚ First time commenting here, but have been reading for 6 months.

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