Is technology coming between agencies and clients?

In a recent Advertising Age article about the breakdown of communication between agencies and clients as indicated by, among other things, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Levy getting blindsided by former GM CMO Joel Ewanick shifting the Chevrolet account to Goodby, Silverstein and partners without ever receiving a phone call, the notion of technology hindering rather than helping relationships was raised.

In the article, Juel Consulting partner Elizabeth Zea said, “As an industry, it feels like we have lost sight of what it means to have a relationship. I see three things that really get in the way. Time, technology and trust. Technology isn’t helping. Why talk when you can text?”

Partially, she is right. People have become far too reliant on technology as an end-all, be-all solution to every business issue – mostly because it’s easy and avoids confrontation. But that’s where the problems begin. It’s too easy to hide behind an email or, more accurately, allow misunderstandings to perpetuate.

Of the dangers of email overreliance,  Tierney COO Molly Watson told me, “We have an informal rule of three-strikes-and-you-pick-up-the-phone, for both internal and client-based issues. If an issue can’t be easily resolved in three emails/texts or less, we insist on a phone call, or better yet, in person meeting.”

But Watson is not anti-technology, telling me the agency relies on technologies such as GoToMeeting when in-person presentations are not possible. She adds, “We are currently testing a digital platform that will allow clients to log into a secure site and view work, comment on it and pass along to the next level for review. And it tracks all comments in one place, which is much more efficient. ”

Cultivator partner Scott Coe sees technology playing both positive and negative roles, telling me, “To us, technology can enable and it can disable. The trick is to find the ways it can make the process more efficient, without stripping out the soul. Nothing replaces face time. The important tech questions are not: ‘Is this the fastest way to get the project approved?’ Or, ‘Will it hold everyone accountable for their role in the effort?’ The right questions are: ‘Is this process in the best interest of the work?’ and ‘Will it help the client work more easily with us?'”

Which, of course, is the most important consideration when implementing any kind of technology solution. Will it help everyone in the organization do their jobs more smoothly and more effectively? Will it allow agencies and clients, especially those in distant geographies, to work together seamlessly and maintain open communication?

Neighbor president Linda Price has a very positive opinion regarding technology. She tells me the agency manages all of their large projects through collaboration software. “Their ability to keep a trail of communication, to keep related assets in one place — and to not get lost in an email inbox — have proven essential,” she says. “Clients are comfortable with collaborative networks. With offices in San Francisco and Los Angeles  and clients across the U.S., we stay connected.”

Chosen properly, technology solutions that improve the ability to collaborate more effectively, streamline operations and simplify communication are well worth considering. And, especially, in this day and age of holding company acquisitions, it is ever more important to implement collaborative systems that allow the various agencies under the holding company umbrella to work together efficiently both internally across the network as well as with clients around the globe.

Post by Steve Hall

Steve Hall is a marketing professional, publisher, writer, community manager, photographer and all-around lover of advertising. Steve has held management positions in media and account service at Leo Burnett, Starcom/Mediavest and others, working on such accounts as Reebok, Marriott, and Marshmallow Fluff.