The Hard Cost of Negotiating with Your Advertising, PR or Marketing Agency

Advertising and Marketing David Ogilvy

When was the last time you negotiated for a website, advertising, public relations, marketing or other branding work?

Chances are, you took that first quote from an agency and thought “I bet I can get this down at least 20%.”

Maybe you can. Here’s why that attitude is costing you real dollars.

Imagine you’re buying a computer, you evaluate the specs and then begin negotiating. You may or may not get a better price, but one thing is certain, you will be getting the exact same product as every other person who buys it. You can actually look at a chart and evaluate it against competitive products. We’ll come back to the computers in a second…

Unlike other products which are fairly straightforward and essentially the same for everyone who buys them, creative work is individual and unique every time.
No two creative products are ever alike.
There may be similarities. But they can’t be compared.
And even if you COULD compare one piece of creative work against another, you can’t suggest that piece of work would be as successful for you as it was for someone else.
There are too many variables.
And every bit of creative work that amounts to anything takes energy, passion and several other attributes that can’t be measured on a spreadsheet.

Why is this important?

Creative products require emotional sensitivity.
It’s this sensitivity that makes creatives able to assess what may or may not work for your situation.
The more highly tuned the sensitivity, the more highly tuned the solution.
The more highly tuned the creative, the more sensitive they probably are.
Creativity on demand is something that requires focus, attention, and most importantly, desire.

Creativity requires sensitivity, creativity requires a certain fearlessness. A willingness to fail and to get up and try again. A willingness to put something personal out there to fail or succeed.
There IS toughness to creativity, but it’s dramatically different from boardroom toughness.

Now, muddy these sensitive waters by suggesting that the work isn’t “worth” what they’re proposing.
Imagine if someone told you “I love your work, it’s amazing. But, I just don’t feel like paying you THIS much for it.”
How would YOU feel about doing work for that person?
You might feel…a little less inspired.
You might still DO the work, but probably not with the same spark.
You might show up for the work, and be professional about it, but you’ll stop thinking about the work on your drive home, in the shower, or even at night while you’re sleeping.
It’s not because you’re being passive aggressive, but a light switch has gone off.

No one can pay enough for the light switch to be on and no one can assess the impact of the light switch being turned off.
Again, it doesn’t belong on a spreadsheet.

Back to that computer analogy: imagine you had to pay for the computer based on a percentage of the revenue of the work it produced for you?
We’d all be paying a shockingly high price for our computers, wouldn’t we?
Prices for computers would go UP, not down and we’d all pay different prices.

But let me illustrate my point this way. Understanding that differences in creative work are hard to measure, let’s assume for a moment that this difference in spark costs you 1% of conversions or sales.
What is THAT worth to you?

Now What?

Instead of negotiating on price, here’s how to work with creatives, including PR, branding, advertising, and marketing agencies.
[blockquote author=”— Bill Bernbach, co-founder of Doyle Dane Bernbach” link=””]”An idea can turn to dust or magic, depending on the talent that rubs against it.” [/blockquote]

When you’re considering people for creative people and agency work, you should ask to see recent work and you should ask to meet with the person(s) doing the work for your account.
Don’t consider this a meeting to “drive down the price” or “work the angles.” Consider this a meeting to identify if they have the right spark for the project.
You should also ask them what they expect of their own work and how they see themselves fitting into the project.
You should give them some parameters and ask them what they would expect to see from their own work.
And you should determine whether you can have a productive, collaborative relationship with the team.
Can they take feedback? How do they react?
Can they talk about WHY they did what they did and does it resonate with you?
Can they talk to you about WHY this project is so interesting to them?
Ask them to tell you about a project they worked on that was challenging and listen to why it was.
Ask them what they learned from it and how it impacts their work today.
You deserve answers like this and questions like this will provide you with far more insight than a proposal.
Creativity doesn’t belong on a spreadsheet, you’re going to have to go with YOUR gut just a bit.
You’re going to have to understand what YOU really need.
Do you need someone who will take the lead or follow direction? Do you need a collaborator or an expert? Do you need strategy or implementation?

Lots of people will say that there is a lot of money wasted every year on ineffective creative. And that there is some really expensive ineffective creative out there. That is entirely true.

Are there hacks who will take your money and produce no results? Yes.
But they are not as common as you’d think and a little research will flesh them out.
Are there super talented people and agencies who sometimes get it wrong? Yes.
But they’re also usually the ones who come up with another solution, rather than lay down on the “we got it wrong.”

And will a single flash of brilliance on the part of a creative (team) necessarily equate to a flash of brilliance for you? Maybe. Maybe not.
Does experience ALWAYS equate to brilliance? Maybe. Maybe not.
I know, it’s uncomfortable, all these unknowns.
It’s easy to say that creatives have to learn to work in the business world and not be so sensitive.
BUT, if you don’t find a creative who is sensitive and emotionally in tune with your product and your audience, it almost guaranteed you NOT to have flashes of brilliance.

One thing I DO know for sure:
Take care of your creatives and they will take care of you.
Inspire a creative and you’ll often get FAR more than you paid for or way more than the contract stipulates.
Because while creativity on demand is hard, but so is turning it off when inspiration strikes. 
[blockquote author=”— George Lois, co-founder of Lois, Holland, Callaway” link=””]Nothing comes from nothing. You must continuously feed the inner beast that sparks and inspires.[/blockquote]

You should be far more concerned about people who are “too cheap” because it’s hard to produce brilliance when you’re running around like a wild person with hair on fire.
You should be far more concerned with people who aren’t interested in the elegance of their own work.
You should be far more concerned with people who aren’t sensitive enough to talk about WHY something worked and WHY something else didn’t.
There are far more talented, creative people who do quality and occasionally brilliant work than there are hacks.
And those people who do quality work, they value their own creative energy enough to get paid, fairly, for it.
And trust me, when I say “fairly” I’m talking about way above the minimum wage and way lower than an average CEO.
If you want to work with creative professionals (and you do if you want your customer to tune-in), then expect professional and give professional.


Am I saying that you should never negotiate with creatives and agencies?
I’m simply saying that at some point, you’re going to have to decide which people are worth what they’re charging you and when you get to that first invoice, no matter what you’re paying, you’ll want to be sure that the spark is on, ignition is lit.
Wouldn’t you rather influence flame than smoke?

PS: Here’s an old-one but a good-one on this topic: