Vendor vs. Pander

I have no answer to the question I’m about to pose, but maybe you do. The question boils down to this: Are agencies Dictators, Consultants, Vendors or Panderers?

In the “Mad Men” days, agencies could often act as Dictators and prescribe how a brand was to be marketed. It didn’t always happen this way, but when you read Ogilvy and other luminaries of the period, you hear of companies swallowing the advice of their agencies without many questions and a big gulp of faith.

By the late 70s, early 80s, that kind of magisterial power had been supplanted by…what? Savvier clients? Ex-agency marketing directors? The rise of consultants? Whatever happened, we saw agencies begin aspiring to, at most, the role of a guide who could maybe lead—but not control–the course of a brand, becoming more Sacajawea than Caesar.

With the Internet, the proliferation of boutique agencies and everybody and their dog and their dog’s fleas thinking they have mad skillz in PhotoShop, CMS, Dreamweaver and all social media, mid-size to small agencies scramble to fulfill any role they can. As such, we end up being Vendors supplying only parts of our clients’ brand strategies, too often not having the opportunity to work with other vendors. Say, one group doing the brand ID work might have little to no hand in guiding other groups doing collateral, online or promotional work. The brand face on television doesn’t resemble the brand on facebook, etcetera.

And that brings us to Panderers. In the last ten years, I’ve known—and worked for—several very smart agencies who have found that advising the client actually had negative effects. A client might respond to a presentation with something like, “But we’ve heard this or we’ve read that and what we want is this.” Pushing back meant getting punched out. So, to meet the bottom line and keep the business, it seems agencies are giving more and more of whatever is asked with little question.

So what’s the answer? Flee to one of the few remaining prestige agencies on the coasts and hope the poison hasn’t reached toxic levels there? Bring firearms to strategy meetings? Don lingerie and try seduction? Please let me know your thoughts, as I look terrible in a teddy.

–John Graham, Copy Director @ Creative Dimensions