I’ve been in the agency business for 25 years. I’ve worked with all kinds of agencies. Above-the-line agencies, below-the-line agencies, consumer agencies, B2B agencies, full-service agencies, boutiques. What has struck me over all those years and the hundreds of client engagements is the speed with which agencies overlook the “why” of the work to get to the “what.”
In my experience, agencies are very good at the what, when, and how. We understand the mechanics of what we do and tend to look at client needs through that lens. We deconstruct the ask to fit the answers into our paradigm: How big? How small? How many? Every agency has the checklist of what/when/how questions that help turn a client need into a deliverable… an ad, an app, an event.
The one question that rarely gets asked – and even more rarely answered – is “why?” Why is an investment being made in this effort and what does it need to achieve? Without a genuine investigation of that question, without a focus on purpose, there is no reason to proceed. Actually, there’s no substantive basis upon which to proceed. And yet, it happens all the time at agencies of all stripes… the blindly nailing down of the “what” without understanding, really understanding, the “why.”
I’m guilty. I have jumped on the let’s-win-this-one! bandwagon without stopping to see if the route we’re travelling is actually getting our client to the right destination. And if we didn’t win, we chalked it up to a bad pitch, the lack of a relationship, too little time. All the while missing the forest for the trees.
Purpose. It’s the North Star. The agency that understands the vital importance of getting to purpose will win the work. Will win the day. Will become the long-term client partner because they consistently help the client win.
I’m not talking about checking-off-the-purpose-box. Accepting at face value the explanation given in the brief. No, I am talking about being aggressively forensic in uncovering the true aspiration underneath the ask. Being doggedly determined in uncovering the “why.” And not accepting things at face value. Asking the hard questions to really understand the “why” behind the “why.” Because that’s where the North Star resides. And when you’ve uncovered the North Star, you answer the what, when and how in a completely different way.
Being purpose-driven is not as easy as it looks. It requires people with a curious mindset and a high level of confidence. It requires persistence and an innovative approach to building effective solutions. It requires a commitment to measuring outcomes. It requires all of these things. The agency that embraces and masters that mission can truly put a client’s purpose into practice.