All through time, there have been agencies, or at least the teams within them, that take advantage of their clients. Let's not suggest this is a common issue but it's certainly one that finds its way into many situations in the process of delivering to consumers. And, accountability is hard to come by because of how projects are scoped and what the realistic amount of time should be to deliver a project. In many cases, Agencies may pad budgets to handle expected Client delays. It's an innocent effort borne from years of Client interaction, but, it's still abuse in our minds. In today's era, despite the proliferation of internet reviews and open access to information, it can be difficult to spot - in fact, you might even be happening to you right now. In order to help you, we have developed this list of what we have seen as potential areas of abuse - spot it and keep your project squarely on track.
A good agency will deliver a solid analytics strategy and follow it up with action. A bad agency will either have not mention analytics at all, or will compile the bare minimum data without any action. Worse, some agencies will provide recommendations that go against the data or are built on unsound data. This means one of two things, either they analyzed the data and didn’t understand that, or they went against it on purpose to pursue their own interests. In either case, this is an agency to be avoided.
Outsourcing is a not necessarily a bad thing - it depends how you implement it. If an agency has a clear strategy where they outsource only specific tasks to professionals, that makes sense. What is wrong however, is when agencies ship off 100% of the work, add their markup and leave clients with the bill. Some agencies accomplish this by going through a ‘dog and pony show’, where they present their most renowned award winning resources to get the business and then as soon as clients sign the SOW they pull a ‘bait and switch’ and transfer all the work off to outsourced junior resources. Clients should watch out for such outsourcing agencies.
Charging for absolutely everything
It is understandable that agency partners want to be paid for their time - nobody likes working for free. In days past, it was easy to identify where costs would come from - bullpen studios charged for every mechanical revision made for example. And they should have. In days past, it took a great deal of effort to make a change to a mechanical. However, today, in the digital age, fixes, and updates, and refinements can often be done in minutes. In the worst situations, and we've seen it, changes orders are issued for tweaks that an Agency lead knows can be done simply and as show of partnership. While we won't say it's wrong to charge, a Client should be on the look out for constant cost adjustments for items that should be easy to handle.
Delivering the minimums or delivering late
Due to nature of some projects, it is necessary to set ranges on deliverables. At the risk of being crass, we all know that Clients will take as much as they can for the limited dollars they have to spend, and understandably so, it's their job to get the most for the least (sorry Clients, we're just stating the obvious, no insult intended). But, abuse does take place when an Agency wants to make example of this. In the negotiation phase and even throughout a project's lifespan, Agency team members may say that deadlines cannot be met on the budget or hours that have been approved when they can be. Knowing how to read the timetable and to review steps in the process is critical for a Client. It helps to ask the right questions and to spot the tactics that can be applied to a project that we believe are abusive.
Creating unclear SOW's
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The statement of work (SOW) is the key to a business transaction and stands as the source of truth when disputes arise. The SOW is meant to clarify deliverables, timelines, and expectations. Some agencies will take advantage of the importance of the SOW by providing deliberately vague and undetailed information. This will allow them to have a back-up when they don't deliver on expectations. When push comes to shove, they will insist upon the interpretation of the SOW which most benefits them - no matter how unreasonable this seems to you - and potentially leaves room to create change orders to increase revenue.
We know this is a tough topic to address, but abuse has happened for as long as this industry has been around. We do our best every day to be the most ethical company possible. Our SOW process is collaborative and open, our work reconciliation is digital and scrutinized by leadership to make sure the team is inputting actual / proper hours for a project. We notify our Client partners at a 20% balance rate to project time and pride ourselves on always keeping "open kimono" when it comes to how we interact. Follow our hiring best practiceshiring best practices and maybe you'll find that it's time to change who you work with.