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Ad Agencies Should Stop Charging Clients Up Front: Three Lessons From Jerry Maguire

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Jerry Maguire's mission statement still rings true for so many agency-client relationships. In the movie Jerry Maguire, Tom Cruise plays a slick sports agent who writes a manifesto. He decries how agencies value their clients as paychecks instead of as people, and then goes on to challenge other agencies to think about the welfare of their clients.

The advertising industry was then, and is still today, self-serving. Many agencies boast about putting their clients first, but few actually do it. The industry is money-hungry, and it's driven by one-upmanship.

To be considered a top agency, you have to win awards, entering into many award categories and producing top-notch content and campaigns. And that costs money, lots of money, which is ultimately sourced from clients.

Yet, at the end of the day, those awards are not in the best interest of the client, right?

  • Will it get the client more business? Most likely not.
  • Will it get the agency new business? More than likely, yes.
  • Will the agency's staff be less involved in client projects due to award silly season? Definitely yes.

The end result is that the agency wins (literally), and the client ends up paying for it.


Perhaps it's time agencies re-evaluated their mission statements and standard operating procedures. Here are three still-relevant catchphrases from Jerry Maguire that agencies can learn from.

1. 'Show me the money!'

Undoubtedly, "show me the money!" is the most famous catchphrase from the movie. Jerry Maguire is made to shout it so that he can keep his client. Simply put, Maguire's client was interested in neither a "pie in the sky" sales pitch, nor a high-maintenance and demanding agent. Instead, he wanted results. He wanted to see money in the bank. He wanted tangible evidence that Jerry Maguire's asking price was worth it.

Which raises this question: Should that not be the status quo? And why are more clients not demanding it of their advertising agencies? "Show me the money! Show me my return on investment!"

But why is it, more often than not, that the agency is demanding more and more money from clients, with nothing more than a fickle promise of results?

There is no doubt that traditional ad agencies are under threat. Marketers are becoming more and more tech-savvy. They are no longer fooled by uneventful metrics, such as cost per thousand (CPM) impressions, reach, or exposure. Don't even think about pitching a retainer without a performance-based KPI. What clients want is action-driven, proven results; Metrics like cost per lead (CPL) and cost per acquisition (CPA) are what now interest tech-savvy marketers.

With monthly retainers as high as $20 000+ per month and hourly rates between $350 and $500, it is little wonder that clients are starting to demand more action-driven results from their agencies.

2. 'Help me, to help you'

Listening is the basis for a relationship with any client, who knows his business better than any agency will. Working together is about a win-win partnership, not a dictatorship. An agency is effectively an extension of the client's marketing team. As such, an agency's mantra should be to drive clients' business performance. By listening to and learning from the client, agencies will be better equipped to help that client.

In this time-poor age, clients are not interested in hearing about transparency. Their priority is not about which account manager is working on their projects, nor how many hours the project team billed. They are not interested in lengthy monthly reports or about rambling stats that are not measurable. What they want to know is how many actual leads or customers their business acquired. In fact, what they want is action-based reports: the number of leads, registrations, downloads, clicks, and especially the number of customers who actually purchased their products or services.

Take, for example, a client-agency relationship based on CPL. The client, a leading life insurance company, partnered with us and paid only for qualified leads. The leads sent to the insurer performed better than the industry standard, with up to 30% of leads converting into a sale. Through this approach, the client was able to grow the number of insurance policies issued by 32% in under 24 months.

To help them to help you is to throw away wishy-washy, futile, conventional reports that too many ad agencies wish to use to confirm their worth. Instead give clients solid, tangible, physical proof of their return on investment.

Ad agencies should put their money where their mouth is and charge only for actual, converted results. And that should be the status quo.

3. 'Quan'

The word "quan," coined in the movie when client Cuba Gooding Jr. says, "Some players have coin, but I have the 'quan.'" He explains that "quan" is more than just "coin," it's also about love and respect. Later in the movie, when Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character is interviewed by ESPN, he calls his agent the "ambassador of quan."

All marketers should ask themselves whether their ad agency is their ambassador of quan...

Every company wants to create a successful and profitable enterprise. Which is why there is usually a sizeable part of marketing budget reserved for advertising. What better way, as an advertising agency, to show your client that you wish to grow your respective businesses symbiotically—by investing your own money into their advertising campaigns.

There is nothing like proving your love, respect, and money by creating a no-risk advertising option.

Show your client that you are their ambassador of quan.


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Carey Dodd is marketing manager for Siren Group, a performance-based advertising agency that invests its own capital in ad campaigns. Clients pay only for agreed-upon results (CPA, CPL)—not for exposure (CPM/CPC).

LinkedIn: Carey Dodd

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  • by Ford Kanzler Fri Apr 14, 2017 via web

    Nice sentiment but seems rather naive. Its about business and in most instances when up-front payment is just a lot smarter. This is especially so with historically slow payers or when there are significant front-end or external costs. Traditional media buying policy has been, client pays first, then media is purchased. Try reversing that only if you're feeling lucky. When a client fails to pay you can be sunk. Help drive client business, certainly. But get paid for it. Making payroll on love doesn't work so well.

  • by Carey Dodd Wed May 10, 2017 via web

    @Ford - thanks for the comment. I do have to disagree with you about your statement that this is naive. The point is that the client should only have to pay for actual, real-time results. Managing debt collection is a separate operational issue. Siren Group is a performance based ad agency and have been operating based on this exact approach since 2009, and continue to do so. Partnering with their clients and investing their own capital into campaigns. Their clients only pay for agreed upon results (CPA/CPL) and not for 'exposure' (CPM/CPC). This pay-per-use payment model is prevalent in many other industries, so why shouldn't it be for digital advertising.

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