S&R Blog

Your next idea – no, you can’t have it for free!

Something has gone terribly wrong in the agency business. Somewhere and at sometime, some bright account executive from an agency sits across from a client and the client says, “Why don’t you get back to me with some ideas and solutions.” To which the account executive replies, “Sure, we would love to help you out.” Nothing wrong with that, right?

After all, we in the agency business are supposed to be creative and provide strategic and creative solutions for our clients to help them drive their business to ever higher market shares and profits. That is what we do in our business.

Soon after the meeting with the client, the account executive goes back to the agency, gathers the team, and briefs them on the client’s needs. For the next few days, there are agency people gathering research and information; there are other people using that information and insight to determine the right strategy and right message; and there are still other people crafting the information, strategy, and messaging into creative concepts and innovative tactics. Still no problem, right?

Two weeks later, the account executive is back with the client to present the powerful creative concepts, innovative tactics, and magnificent information, rationale, and messaging. At the end of the presentation, the client looks at all of this and says, “Wow! This is really great work. I think you have nailed it!” The excited, wild-eyed account executive puts an estimate for the ideas, strategies, and creative recommendations in front of client. (Mind you, this estimate does not include the full execution of the ideas but just the work that went into coming to this point.) The client, puzzled and confused, looks at the account executive and says, “Why should I have to pay for your ideas? Besides, we are only working on a project basis, and it’s your job to bring these to me.”

Sound impossible or unrealistic? Think again—it happens all the time. So what is the correct approach to this issue?

First, clients should not expect or demand that an agency provide research, thinking, strategy, or anything else without the expectation that they will pay for such effort. An agency has no other product to sell other than their time and thinking. Pharma companies likely look at such a situation in the same way that they look at product sampling. Believe me, those are totally different concepts.

Second, agencies are just as much to blame. For years, agencies have put vast amounts of money into “pitches” and sound ideas—only to give them away to the client. This is both wrong-minded from the pure business perspective, and it is also wrong from the value-proposition side. If you give your hard work away, what does that say about the way you value what you do and what you produce? If it is free, it can’t be worth much.

My conclusion is that clients and potential new clients have a right and a responsibility to know about their agencies, their experience, their creative work, and their strategic ability. That can easily be demonstrated by a good agency. However, when the client asks for business-specific ideas and thinking, they should be willing to pay for that service, and the agency should be willing to charge for the same.

– Dave Recht


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[…] is no such thing as a free idea in pharma marketing In an earlier posting, I described the evolution of agencies and how clients expect and demand that agencies generate […]

Pingback by There is no such thing as a free idea in pharma marketing « S&R Blog

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