If you have visited me here before, or held a conversation with me for long you’ll know that nothing pisses me off more than marketing services firms that present themselves as experts in fields that they know less about than the businesses they are supposed to be advising.  When I am sitting in the client chair at some of the firms I work with, I don’t want to have to tell my suppliers’ what to do, yet increasingly I find I have to.  I hire consultancies as advisors.  By definition this means they should know more about their subject than I do, but increasingly I find they don’t.  Does this mean standards are falling or is it just that I’m getting old?

It has been bad enough with so-called “branding agencies”.  It appears that the “branding agency” monika has become a synonym of “failed design group” all over the world.  You can imagine the executive meetings where the idea arises.

Exec one: “We have to do something.  We haven’t seen a new project in six months”
Exec two: “Yes, it seems nobody wants (our) design any more”
Exec one: “No. All they are interested in is this branding stuff”
Exec three: “What’s that all about then?”
Exec one: “Its just designing logos, but you write a guidelines document to go with it and you slap a £20,000 quid price tag on it”
Exec three:  “Well, we design logos.  We can do that can’t we?
Exec one:  “Sure, there’s nothing to it, but we’ve never charged more than a grand for a logo”.
Exec two:  Maybe that’s what we have been doing wrong!”
Exec three:  “Sure, we’ve been too cheap”
Exec three: “Yes but we have to call ourselves a branding agency”
Exec one:  “OK, its decided then.  From today we are a branding agency”

I’m truly convinced that this must be how it works in the majority of cases because most of the branding agency people I have met don’t have the first clue of what a brand is! Now I’m having deja vous.  Failed advertising agencies everywhere are suddenly becoming “SocialMedia Agencies”!

I’ve been trying to find a a suitable social media agency for  my client in Saudi Arabia and I’ve had a steady stream of hopefuls through my office for the past six months.  Believe me, I’ve seen some jokers. An entire new generation of scrubbed-up young social media enthusiasts, all with surprisingly smart and trendy offices and all keen to explain that social media is different because its about “engaging” in conversation with customers.  “This isn’t advertising” they all emphasise – usually about thirty seconds before they show a catalogue of their work that is all what I’d call advertising.  I don’t know what it is, but there appears to be a fatal disconnect between what they say and what they do.  Possibly because they are regurgitating stuff they have read in a social media post somewhere (authored by someone who did know) but don’t have the intellect to understand what it means in practical terms.

So, for the record.  Next time I am looking for a social media advisor and you fancy your chances tell me stuff I don’t know or at the very least walk your talk.  I’ll expect you to give me a framework of activity, a few ingenious apps or games and the text of posts that will launch conversations.  I don’t want to see advertisements and I certainly don’t want to have to tell you how to word posts!

Phil Darby
December 15, 2013

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