Can you picture an old-school negotiator?

It’s not pretty.

Hair like steel wool hovering over untrimmed eyebrows cocked in a stance of you’re-about-to-cave knowingness. Beefy nose barely dodging what’s left of a Cuban cigar. Jutted chin and unblinking eyes, all three like hard Arctic ice.

And a cheeky smile that says, “Only one winner allowed today.”

Let’s call him Harwart Piker.

Harwart has a clear budget in mind, and the authority to use it. But his skinflint within is pushing for half that. Fists clenched, he grips the secret of what he’s truly willing to spend.

This caricature of sometimes-real-people wants a marketing agency. Cheap.


Has Mr. Piker thought through the implications?

Doesn’t seem like it.

Any agency willing to work under the autocratic attitude of a guy like Harwart has got problems:

  • Possibly inexperienced.
  • Definitely desperate.
  • Potentially incompetent.

If that’s true, cheap has suddenly become very expensive.

And let’s assume Mr. Piker somehow sells the agency on his half-hidden budget. What kind of effort will his soulless approach likely engage?

Half-hearted, half-baked, and half-creative at best. It’s the law of sowing and reaping hard at work. Chintzy seed, chintzy harvest.

Let’s all say a polite goodbye to the Harwart Pikers of this world. Both within and without.


What are intelligent people looking for in a marketing agency?

One word: Value.

True marketing substance, when rendered down to basic elements, is composed of three things:

  1. Seamless Competence: You want the job done without a lot of handholding, loose ends, or after-the-fact patch jobs. 
  2. Measurable ROI: ROI that is quantifiable is a marketing given, but it can never be an assumption. Here’s an insider: A good agency will demonstrate this without you having to ask for it.
  3. Long-Term Relationship: If a marketing agency can deliver on the first two, the third is most desirable. Any agency that helps drive the bottom line -- while doing so with a minimum of bumps -- is someone you want to hang on to.

So if value is the target -- as opposed to cheap -- make sure your opening negotiation stance aligns with that goal.

That means using different tactics than our friend, Harwart Piker.


Is it better to quote our full project budget from the get-go?

That would be our best suggestion. Why?

  • You want to lead with transparency. When considering the possibilities of a long-term relationship, you don’t want to be perceived as permeated with hidden agendas and manipulative tactics. First steps at the negotiation table leave deep impressions. And people’s reading skills are better than ever.
  • You want the agency to think expansively. Don’t limit marketing motivation with a small budget. You’ll be getting a third of the possibilities while spending half your budget. You're not negotiating for a slightly-used BMW here. You’re buying creativity, something with elastic boundaries.
  • Finally, you want to be an A client. Any service industry in the top ten percent of their field has a sneaky tactic. Customers aren’t aware, but it's there: Client bases are categorized by their quality -- and served accordingly. Smart marketing agencies are masters at this.

Here’s how it works:

  • D clients are a drain, and have long since been weeded out. They’re the complainers, the chiselers, the payment procrastinators. Prospects emanating this aroma no longer make it to the negotiation table.
  • C clients need coaching, the encouragement to carry their end of a working relationship. They’re either moving up the alphabet through proactive nurturing, or they’re being weeded out by high fees and secondary efforts. This is not a good place to stay.
  • B clients are the bread and butter of every service industry. They get honest value for their promptly paid fees. If B clients don’t move up or down the scale, that’s probably okay.
  • A clients are the aspirational souls, the ones every professional service provider seeks with a keen eye. They draw out the best treatment, the maximum effort, the highest creativity. Why? Money always seems to be a secondary issue. Making sure everyone wins is primary. They have big goals, and the awesome attitude that motivates everyone in their proximity.

Yep. That’s the nasty, vaulted secret in the service industry.

But think about it: Everyone does this, at least on an unconscious level. With family, friends, associates -- the whole gamut of relationships is touched by this ranking mindset.

Hopefully we’re fair about it, but it’s naive to deny it exists.

And the bottom line of our rankings? We work harder for the people who draw out the best in us. When it comes to serving clients, real pros make these categorized judgements with conscious alacrity.

Marketing agencies are no exception. They want to put out their best effort, so they proactively look for the A clients that will enhance and encourage it.


So how does one get on that A-list?

Great question.

  • Bring your best game to the table. When clients merely want to throw money at the marketing “problem,” vulturous agencies start circling, and decent agencies are less than inspired. Before you sit down, know what you want. The deeper the understanding of your own marketing goals and the possibilities to get there, the better you’ll play at that table. When a client brings their own insights, the possibilities for synergy increase. When that happens, everyone is engaged.
  • Seek values alignment. When closely aligned with a prospective client, an agency may settle for a smaller budget to prime the pump of a long-term relationship. Genuineness and openness go a long way here. And should the first project come off swimmingly, the proven ROI will allow for a fairer budget down the road.
  • Think in term of interests, not positions. “We can only spend this much,” is a position. It’s shallow. It doesn’t mix, match, or magnify the possibilities. “Is there some way we could enhance your agency’s profile through our own channels and still keep this project in budget?” Now we’re moving toward interests.
  • Finally, be an A person and you’ll be an A client. No matter how lucrative a given client is, if they have a disgruntled attitude, a demanding approach, a dismissive air -- they will never get the best out of anyone who works for them. And there are a thousand ways to be disgruntled, demanding or dismissive.


What’s the conclusion here?

A simple first step.

Go in loud and generous with your full budget, up front. Then keep your eyeballs peeled for engaged competence and a whole-hearted relationship.

Again, cheap is not the goal here. Spend it all. Spend it smart. Spend it with long-term possibilities in mind.

Value doesn’t have to be expensive. But it never comes cheap.

And the Harwarts of this world never seem to get it.


We know that finding the best agency for your marketing project can be difficult. Hundreds of agencies. Dozens of disciplines. Good versus great. The considerations are many. Rnked can help. Our broker team intelligently matches growing businesses and marketing agencies. We give you choice, freedom, and zero obligation in the process. Using smart data and years of experience, we take an important marketing decision -- and simply make it less difficult. You're still at the helm, but we're here, aiding along the way. And we do it without cost to you.

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Manfred Koehler

Manfred Koehler is Rnked Marketing Broker's Chief Content Creator. As a speaker, writer, and photographer, he is an addicted creative. Stick-ability is his favorite word. And Rnked is Manfred's favorite place to work.