We shouldn't let personalisation erode the agency/client model

Bespoke comms services are becoming the norm but client-agency relationships should not get lost in the hype.

Sometimes, only the best will do.

So we should probably be cheering the fact that increasingly, the concept of ‘bespoke’ is becoming a societal norm.

From patient-centric care plans and personalised medicine, to the somewhat less healthcare-related ‘create-your-own’ scooter my daughter has requested for Christmas, and on which I have spent the better part of the weekend helping to pick, and then repick, colours and designs.

It’s a trend that has been gaining momentum for several years and one I suspect is going to continue. And it’s a trend we’ve been seeing in agency life too, with clients starting to demand increasingly bespoke offerings and expertise to address whatever challenge they’re confronted with.

When I started out in healthcare comms, the idea that you might claim to be a media specialist was seen by some as an affront to the entire agency construct – surely every PR was an expert in dealing with the media? The idea of engaging a creative specialist seemed erroneous for similar reasons. But these days you can’t move for policy specialists, clinical specialists, access specialists, digital specialists, consumer specialists, social media specialists, specialist storytellers… the list goes on.

In a sector of the comms industry that is becoming increasingly expansive and complex, maybe it makes sense to compartmentalise individuals’ expertise in such a way. Certainly, it’s increasingly what our clients are asking for. On the agency side, many of my colleagues – past and present – seem to like the idea too. It is an opportunity to focus on a particular area of interest and, as a result, update the all-important email signature with some grandiose and hitherto unheard of title.

But where they see advantage and appeal, I increasingly see missed opportunity. The most positive and successful client-agency relationships I have been part of have been those based on the shared belief that whatever the comms challenge ahead, you will be able to work together to address it. As a result, I’ve seen PR accounts blossom into med ed accounts, into advertising and public affairs – all without a ‘specialist’ in sight.

And while there are still examples of that happening, the value of creating a truly enduring client-agency relationship is diminishing. We’ve entered the age of short-term, project-based ‘one-offs’ that demand specialists rather than generalists.

But as alluring as the bespoke may now seem, and as potentially advantageous as it might be to build agencies around silos of connected specialities, it should not come at the cost of the long-term relationships and trust we’ve traditionally been able to build with our clients.

As with my daughter’s scooter obsession, as exciting as it is to spend hours on end building a bespoke creation in a myriad of gaudy colours, not only will it end up costing me significantly more, but I suspect it will be no more successful at getting her from A to B than the slightly less flamboyant contraption I tore around on at her age.

Tim Geldard is managing director of TogoRun UK

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