What’s the difference between agency and client time?


A lot of frustration. I’ve consulted for 60+ agencies and 100+ clients and a hot topic is always how to improve the relationship. In every session, I’ve shown a picture of 2 clocks with just the 9 hand and asked groups to tell me when a typical 9 am meeting actually begins at the agency and the client.

Groups always guess 9:10 to 9:15 in agency land, 9 on the dot in client world. It’s uncanny…regardless of audience, almost always the same guesses and accurate in my experience. At agencies, people are still straggling into sessions well past the hour. At client businesses, they’re always in their seats ready to go.

This is one of the most fundamental rubs between the two. Even though clients pay the bills, agencies seem to hold themselves to a different standard. And it’s more than minor infractions like meeting times…it shows in attitudes toward deadlines, budgets, standards, et al.

Agencies live in a gray area of interpretation and opinion; client businesses are more black and white. The launch went off on time and budget or it didn’t. Sales hit the threshold or failed. Account managers get embarrassed when things don’t go right; brand managers get fired.

There is something to be said for the notion that creative inspiration doesn’t work on a punch clock. Sometimes breakthrough ideas take longer or more money than planned. But on a daily basis, there’s more to said for sharing the same sense of urgency so extra is the exception, not the expectation.

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