Escape the Commodity Trap—Become a Trusted Advisor

When the marketing organization and key stakeholders view the in-house agency as task-oriented order takers, it creates the commodity trap–a cycle where uninspired assignments create uninspired results. When people are treated like a commodity, they often begin to think like one. As a result, in-house teams are denied a seat at the table, and the chance to contribute in a more thoughtful (and strategic) way.

As these mistaken beliefs become self-reinforcing, in-house team members lack growth opportunities, leading to increased turnover. Worse, the organization fails to tap into the true and deeper talents of its employees, resulting in lost opportunities to add value all around.

It’s a mindset problem, with some internal agencies stuck in the commodity trap despite a wealth of simple shifts that might make them better partners. In our work with over 190 marketers and agencies, we’ve seen that some of the simplest changes can be incredibly effective.

Ask the unasked questions. Move away from simply taking and executing a task as assigned. Instead, demonstrate curiosity, a desire to learn, and a willingness to own the challenge. Relentlessly drive to the unasked questions that often lead to a deeper understanding of the strategic objectives and root purpose of the project. Enroll your whole team in this effort to grow their talents as well.

Go beyond the “ask.” Do the work, but also deliver new ideas and approaches that can achieve objectives with greater speed and success. This technique is used by the most successful agencies; it’s called “forward investment.” Show that you can deliver, but also that you can take them further. You don’t need to do this all the time, but doing it sometimes will change the dialogue.

Foster internal alignment. Misalignment between marketing and other internal stakeholders is rampant and often slows work, burns budgets and reduces work quality. When in-house teams take the lead in driving greater alignment between brand, product and the production teams, rework rates, surprises and last-minute changes of direction decrease. Demonstrate your leadership by bringing together all team members and stakeholders in an environment where collaboration and alignment become part of the culture.

Internal agencies that master these skills have increased potential to change perceptions and become trusted partners. Their organizations benefit from enhanced productivity, better work and a happier workforce.

Greg Morrell and Allen Singer are principal consultants in AgencyAgile’s Agile Marketing practice area.

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