“Welcome to the Dark Side!” he said with an evil laugh.
That’s not how I would characterize it, of course; that’s how one of my new colleagues put it when I explained that my whole career had previously been with agencies. He, a veteran of stops at a few ad agencies, had given a knowing smirk.
I joined LiftMaster at the end of April, transitioning from a senior digital leadership role in a small B2B agency to a senior digital leadership role with the world’s dominant manufacturer of professionally installed garage door openers (and gate operators and commercial door operators, among other related products). I am very excited to be part of a thriving company that is transitioning from a traditional, sales-driven inward-focused manufacturer model to an innovative marketing-driven company focused on its customers. The Digital/Social/Mobile spectrum is acknowledged as vital to the future of the company, and I feel invigorated to be a part of this movement and be able to bring my own experience and skills in a way that will make a difference.
Transitioning to the corporate side has so far been pretty smooth. But I have to admit that I entered under some apprehension. The behavior of brand-side clients has often been viewed by agency people (affectionately for the most part) with a raised eyebrow. There are many stereotypes that agency people have about brand-side clients.
- It takes them forever to get things done
- Nobody can make a decision
- Corporate life is easier than agency life
- Politics are sometimes more important than smart choices
- Clients take advantage of the relationship
I knew that these were probably exaggerations…but it is very interesting (almost as an intellectual exercise) to see how quickly I have fallen into some of this stereotypical behavior. And why.
It takes forever to get things done. Some clients are impossible to pin down for approvals, response to questions, or clarification of requests. Usually the excuse is that they are so over-strapped and busy that they cannot respond in a timely fashion. And you know what? It’s true. Within my first week, my days were filled with meetings, review boards, and weekly update sessions. I even had to interview somebody for a job (not my direct report)! For us on the digital team, we have two major website redesigns underway, including an agency review and selection process; plus two ongoing websites that are actively being managed and operated; plus we have Search Marketing, and Social Media, and Email blast requests that we manage internally. There is a lot going on, and it doesn’t get any less crazy as you move up the chain. Did I mention we are transforming the company? That takes a lot of energy. I am guilty of the non-response and the push-to-the-back-burner on items that really need to be addressed. But sometimes, I just don’t have the time or I cannot connect with the right internal people to get something answered.
Nobody can make a decision. That’s not true at all; I remain as decisive as ever. However…in a matrixed organization, there are lots of people that should know about or have input in many different kinds of decisions. That sometimes creates a logjam because if different stakeholders have differing views, the decision can get stalled because nobody is quite sure who has precedence. For me, particularly when it comes to things related to a website, I have pushed ahead with priorities and decisions based on the overall needs of the project…making sure to explain and inform at every step of the way. So far, nobody has yelled at me. And we are mostly on schedule. However I do admit to missing deadlines as I try to manage the approval process up the chain and sideways through the company. It just take a lot of time to get some people’s attention.
Corporate life is easier than agency life. Sometimes it seems like clients punch out at 4 pm every day: this one is definitely not true. Brand-side marketers work seriously hard. Especially for a global organization, where night-time conference calls to Asia are the norm and travel is constant. Leaving early is sometimes just a time shift. I have to say the work ethic is unquestioned. There are plenty of days when I am here at 6 pm and the place is still humming.
People make the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons. Often, clients like myself J are not sophisticated when it comes to digital technology. So we often see the “pretty penny” syndrome where the flashiest option, or the one mentioned in the radio story during the drive in, becomes the must-have solution. Another variation is that the majority owner or the CEO knows somebody in a family that has somebody in a position of authority with one potential vendor, for example, and they want to make sure that company “gets a fair consideration.” (Or, in other words, gets selected.) The fortunate truth is that our Purchasing Group is very good at making sure any potential vendor is vetted and capable, so even if a little cronyism comes into play, most potential partners can actually get the job done. Maybe just not the one that might actually be best for the job.
Clients take advantage of the agency relationship. Clients sometimes, it might be said, either take advantage of the relationship or do things that might legitimately be viewed as exasperating, just because they can. Most of the time there is no evil intent, so the “Dark Side” phrase is clearly tongue in cheek. I do admit however that I sometimes engage in behavior that is not particularly noble, because I feel I have to and because I know I can get away with it. Rescheduling meetings at the last moment, or not being able to show up for calls, is a prime example. I know how hard it is to align multiple schedules, and I know how hard agencies work to prepare for meetings. Yet if I am pressed for time or face unexpected schedule impacts, I have summarily bounced a long-scheduled meeting or skipped a regular status that really I needed to attend. One does what one has to do, and the unfortunate reality is that the agency just has to allow it. I try not to be arbitrary, and I am appreciative of accommodation, but I know that sometimes it sucks to have this done to you. So I try not to do it….
I think that I am doing an OK job of being sensitive to the challenges faced by my agencies and not taking them for granted. Hopefully they can understand that although we are working towards a common goal, corporate clients do in fact face a different set of priorities and have a complex set of relationships to support. Thanks to my former agency brothers and sisters for all their hard work, and I look forward to being a good client from now on.