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Agency folks love to complain about the pace of our work, the numerous bosses (AKA “clients”), the often restricted budgets, creative latitude and so on. It is human

Hipster shoesnature to bemoan the challenges we face personally, but to serve the interests of our clients we also have to factor in the obstacles our clients must, in turn, surmount.

The worst thing an agency partner can do is bring no ideas. The second worse thing is to present an idea, concept or approach to a client that does not fit their strategy or creates a headache disproportionate to the potential upside and opportunity. It’s the headache that often gets discounted or ignored. You’re just bad at your job if you are off strategy — but the risk-reward balancing trick is tough to achieve for anyone without a crystal ball and even tougher without the consideration of internal decision factors that the client may not explicitly divulge. This is where perceptive agency partners take a walk in their clients’ shoes.

Agencies are regularly tasked with helping their clients locate the edge that is relevant, strategic and effective for clients without pushing them over that edge. It’s the proverbial fine line that is influenced by factors well beyond those commonly found in a plan or brief. Marketers confront pressures unique to their particular environment when making difficult and finessed decisions regarding budgets, partners and opportunities. This allows them to make the best decision for their business in that space and time. It may not be the optimal decision according to a sterile predictive model but none of us live in that sterile world.

How can we factor in the real world issues that can and should influence marketing decisions?

Some Things We Can Glean From Historical Response

Have similar recommendations met with resistance or delay in the past? What was the underlying reason for that resistance? Is it likely to change or is it endemic to the organization or industry?

Industry factors like regulatory constraints should be pretty straight forward and clearly considered but companies and individuals have different appetites for risk that also need to be considered. You can moderate the tendency to play it too safe over time by building trust, gaining proof points with successful recommendations and a thorough, objective examination and presentation of your plans.

There are also individual biases and personalities at play that have nothing to do with risk aversion. For example, if your key decision maker does not believe in an approach or channel then logic or rationale may not be enough to get them on board. Or, your client may have been an internal champion for something that recently failed to get support or failed in execution so may not have the organizational backing to press anything right now. Conversely, if they are flying high on a string of wins they may be afforded more leeway

Some Things We Can Ask or Intuit if We Consciously Put our Lens on It

Are your goals truly aligned with those of the client? Things shift based on internal politics, moving budgets, competitive or other pressures, and personnel, direction or leadership changes, among other things. There are things you may not know or only be aware of peripherally that can have a dramatic impact on what clients can or want to take on.

Budget may have been diverted to endow someone’s passion project even though core programs are still underfunded. A hiring freeze may have removed the internal resources needed to support a critical effort. The potential and actual scenarios are endless and illustrative of the possible complications in a client’s decision tree. Some are logical, some are just human. Simply asking your internal advocate if there are other things to take into consideration in making your plans may yield some surprising and valuable insights. Use these new insights to enrich and personalize your recommendations to get the best possible outcome for your client in their current reality.

Sylvia Becker, Director, Field Marketing & Media at Friendly’s Restaurants recently observed, “Organizations respond differently depending on their experience level in a given channel.  If we are ramping up in a certain area, we may approach something more cautiously in exploration mode — buying small tests at first to learn.”  She advises agencies to “be mindful of a balance between the tried and true (with some outliers), and to always look at new ways to market.”

“Make sure that key stakeholders are exposed to new work and program outcomes, grounded in easy-to-digest highlight reports, scorecards or dashboards that relay the real results that marketers care about,” Becker continued.

Business decisions, of necessity, factor in a host of real world variables ranging far wider than a media model, predictive analytics or customer journey map. Being a great partner means understanding and balancing all the realities and all the variables, including those outside of your control. The better you understand and incorporate the client’s history, challenges and biases into your planning, the stronger your alignment will be to what success truly means to your client.