Coming from a background in digital agencies I’ve often asked why a client wanted to hire an agency. However clients rarely understand why they need to hire an agency and in a lot of cases it’s not actually what they need at all, well not a traditional agency relationship anyway.
Traditional agencies work on the basis of project work. They are hired to do a project for the client (build a new website, re-design an existing website to make it better etc). There are only two reasons a client hires an agency in this context.
- They have the skills but not the time/resource to do the work themselves
- They lack the skills to do the work themselves
These two reasons, when coupled with project thinking (thinking where you give a brief, the work is done and then handed over to the customer at the end) lead most companies to look at an agency model to get the work done. You agree a fee with the agency, they do the work and the risk is all theirs. Sounds lovely in theory, but unfortunately the business of the web doesn’t fit neatly into the project model. It’s a good model for when you’re building a house or something tangible but falls apart with software.
The reason it falls apart is that a website or piece of software is not a finite project. There is no end state, just a constant state of improvement and development. You launch your site and customers want new features, or the market changes. You then need to go back and make changes to the “finished project”.
So now you have a choice, if you haven’t planned for this already, you either go back to the agency and do another project to add improvements or you do the improvements yourself (depends if your underlying reason was 1 or 2 above). So really you didn’t solve your underlying problem, lack of skills or resource, you just delayed when it became an issue. Add to this that the pace of change is getting quicker in the marketplace and you can see that old project based thinking is not the solution.
So what are the options you do have?
- If you have a lack of skills then get those skills on board.
- If you have a lack of resource then get those resources on board.
- Use a digital agency that thinks beyond projects.
Option 1 and 2 are really the only viable and sensible solution if your digital product is at the heart of your business. In fact think about the message you send out to your existing team(s) if you get in a digital agency. You could be sending out a message that you don’t want to invest in their skills and would rather pay someone else than help them get better.
Option 3 means looking more closely at your agency of choice and understanding that you will need to be with them for the long haul. This means thinking beyond projects. You’ll need an agency that values transparency with you and wants to work collaboratively with you and your team. The agency will need to gel with your organisation seamlessly and become like another ready built department. The agency will need to be brave enough to share knowledge and skills with your teams and sometimes work co-located with your company. You’ll need to look at a billing model that is collaborative and cost effective over time.
Does that sound like your existing agency or any agency you’ve worked with before? Chances are it doesn’t and that’s because most agencies are stuck in old ways of project centric thinking because clients expect/demand it. However it is incumbent on both the agency and the customer to reject this old mode of thinking to ensure that agencies and the solutions they provide are fit for the future.