4 Ways to Keep Creativity Alive as AOR Dies

Get honest in the agency-client relationship

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There are some new symptoms that would suggest AORs are nearing the end of their useful life. 

Distrust of us advertisers is embarrassingly on the rise. In a recent Gallup poll, we are viewed as less honest than car salespeople (yet more honest than Congress). It’s not the company we want to keep—and can afford to keep—given the importance of creativity in business.

It’s evident that our roles need to shift to continue to be valuable.

‘Intentional creative destruction’

This is an industry ripe for further creative destruction—the dismantling of long-standing practices to give way to innovation—and in this case, greater creative thinking. 

As AORs become less objective and more focused on efficiency, and while marketers build up their own internal competencies, all is not lost. In fact, everyone does need to get some doses of fresh thinking from time to time. This is the essence of agency value in the new world where the AOR is dead.

Delivering this will require agencies to think differently and clients to engage differently, on a much more intentional level than ever before. A new mindset must pervade these decisions and negotiations. Here are four critical shifts that will improve client partner relationships immediately and keep agencies sustained without AOR status:

Let’s get real

Internal client teams have proven valuable and span many essential functions. So clients should start to get very specific with agencies about what they are seeking to augment these teams. At the same time, agencies would be wise to check the mirror and be honest about what they are truly experts in, then go all in on a more narrow offering. Agency selection becomes about finding complementary talents, which is the start of a productive relationship.

Go beyond the MSA/SOW

These agreements are critical to protect both parties, and as such they are drafted from a defensive posture, with the assumption that things will go wrong. What they are missing is any sense of standard of relationship: the stuff that actually makes great creative work possible. Adding a set of “Conditions of Partnership” will clarify what each team expects and needs from one another to fulfill their end of the deal. Craft them together, sign off on them as binding. Now you have a real commitment to one another’s success.

Trust on day one

Creativity is a high-energy form and to achieve it consistently, it must have trust at the foundation. The idea that trust is earned is a long-standing business belief that has stifled creativity for its entire existence. When you ask your agency to bring you bespoke creative thinking, ideas or solutions, you deserve to expect that to be the result. Agencies need to trust that their client sponsors will champion the new thinking and be part of the team that gets it done. Trust and your success go hand in hand; holding back is a recipe for failure in the first pasture.

Destroy your agency roster

A roster is a list of agencies to pick from. A coalition is when two or more parties come together to achieve a common goal.  Successful clients will recognize good intentions of their agents with incentives who perform at a high creative standard and enlarge the efforts of other partners (internal teams or other external partners). Successful agencies will bring a built-in capacity of care and empathy for the success of the client sponsor, and they will draw their own fulfillment from helping the client achieve success. This is the essence of marketing: to be expansive.

The new era of clients and agents is going to require more closeness than ever before, eradicating traditional lines of separation for both to thrive. Getting there means agents need to start being more honest about their true expertise, value and intentions. And clients need to start getting honest about the value of creativity in their business and building coalitions that care. Intentional creative destruction will lead to deeper conversations, newly found insights and remarkable ideas that change business for good.