Many years ago, my dad, also Paul, ran a successful advertising agency. Gumbinner-North was the twentieth largest agency in the world. My dad had wonderful insights into the business. Once I had achieved some prominence in the industry, he warned me that, and I am quoting, “Fees will be the death of the agency business as we know it.” He couldn’t have been more right.
One of the many issues with fees is that it puts clients in charge of their own business. Part of what agencies should be paid for is their objectivity. But with fees, clients have the last word. One of the manifestations of this is clients who insist on meeting candidates who will work on their account prior to their being hired by the ad agency. (Or, worse, agencies who do it out of fear and volunteer to have clients interview prospective hires for their accounts).
This is alarmingly common, especially with senior executives, but I have seen account executives and account supervisors who have been forced to meet with their prospective clients prior to being offered a job. Some agencies have told me that this is a courtesy and the clients do not have the right of approval. That is BS and unlikely - an agency is hardly going to make the hire if, for some reason, the client does not like the potential employee or has negative comments: “Oops, sorry, we are going to hire her/him anyway.” Wrong.
By having the client meet the potential employee prior to hire is giving he client tacit approval to control every action which the agency makes on the client's business, no matter how significant or trivial.
I can think of one instance where a group account director was interviewed by a client. The interview went well. But at the end of the interview, the client called the agency and told them that since they were paying a fee, they felt that they didn't need someone that senior running their business; they instructed the agency to find someone more junior. As appalling as this is, it actually happened.
Gosh, dad, you were right.
Agencies are always in the best position to know who they need and who will succeed. Presumably, after interviewing multiple candidates and with much experience with the client, they are in a position to determine the ideal staffing on their accounts. This is not a shared responsibility.
By giving clients the ability to meet prospective candidates, agencies not only lose their objectivity, but they end up in the difficult position of being totally beholden to the client. What happens if the person ends up being liked by the client but not by the agency? How do you tell your client that the person is not doing a good job? The reverse is a lot easier: if the hire turns out to be a dud, it is a lot easier to tell the client who has not approved them that a mistake was made.
When an agency hires an executive at any level it should be with total confidence, enthusiasm and absolute support. Clients should always know and trust that the agency has their best interest at heart. Period.
When clients interview agency executives, it puts the client/agency relationship in perspective; and not a good one, either.