Chateau Petrus, sadly the ’78 is missing. Image courtesy of cDubya.

One of the key tenets of behavioural theory is that we value more the things for which we pay more. The more expensive the wine, the greater quality we believe it to be and the more that we value it. So how come this idea doesn’t seem to hold water when it come to clients and the value they place on agencies.


Theoretically the more money that a client is paying an agency the more you would think that they value the recommendations and output of that agency. But I wonder if precisely the opposite is true. That clients view the not insubstantial fee that they are paying not as remuneration for the quality of agency’s contribution to the fame and fortune of the brand but as a fee for a service. The sort of service that involves hanging on the client’s every word, taking any number of fruitless meetings with them, fluffing their individual and collective egos and having good and possibly great work rejected or unpicked until there is nothing of quality left. Much like her client pays a call girl to go out with him, listen attentively, make him look good in public and then pleasure him in the bedroom department.
Conversely, the clients that pay an agency nothing at all seem to value it far more highly and take its recommendations rather more seriously, so called pro bono clients. Now this could simply be out of gratitude for the time that the agency is investing for no financial return but I think it goes rather deeper than this.
Bizarrely, the less commercial the relationship the more professionally you are seen, as if the exchange of money demeans your engagement with the client, your sense of partnership and the objectivity of your advice. Unpaid, you are seen as truer business partners.
Is this unique to advertising? Are we the only industry where the greater we are remunerated the less professional we appear and the less like partners we are treated, as if clients are saying ‘well you’ve got your money, now do what we say’? I can’t see this being the relationship that McKinsey or Foster Partners enjoy with their clients where the cost of their advice is directly correlated to its percieved quality. Whereas hiring a great agency and then making them produce tat is rather like putting the Chateau Petrus 1978 in your spaghetti Bolognese.

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