A OR B? Why The AOR Model Isn’t Good for Anyone

Luke Miller, President and COO – Shop Marketing and Creative Group

As an agency executive, when you hear the term Agency of Record (AOR), you get excited, or at least you should… or at least you should if you’re old hat. That’s better; oId hat. Because if you’re old hat, you get excited about the AOR model. If you’re part of one of the “big” or traditional agencies, or part of an agency that does things the way agencies always have, then being the Agency of Record for your client is probably a big deal. It’s a big deal, because it means you’ve “proven” yourself trustworthy and the courtship is over. The AOR model is the agency answer to the age-old, 6th grade question of “…so are we boyfriend and girlfriend?”

The truth is, if you have to ask, you don’t know. If you are asking to be an AOR, it’s probably because you’re overly confident or too scared of the alternative. Why do you need to be validated by the label of AOR? I mean, after all, if you really were the client’s AOR you would know through the constant barrage of work.

I run a company in which we are an AOR. I know that, not because we have asked or because they have told us, but because the work, the praise, an the internal refferals keep coming. The relationships are strong, the projects are successful, and there is a line to get in the club. There is no doubt in their mind that our work isn’t top notch. There is no doubt in our minds that they don’t want to break up.  There is no doubt we are an AOR, just not in the traditional sense.

The traditional AOR model is stifling in and of itself. It’s insecure at best. It’s abusive at worst. I’ve witnessed numerous clients and agencies wither in the staleness of the traditional AOR relationship, because the agency is no longer creating and the company is too ignorant to notice or too scared to call it off. I’ve watched large, 100 year-old industry behemoths fork over hundreds of thousands of dollars in agency retainers. All in the name of the almighty AOR.

When you need a new plumber, do you not call 2-3 just to check costs? When you get a new car, do you not go to a couple different dealerships to play them off each other? When you are online shopping, do you not check several stores to compare prices? When a doctor says you need surgery, do you not seek a second opinion? Of course you do. Or at least you should.

We blindly trust a lot in this world, but, even in instances where that is considered ok or normal, you are doing yourself a disservice when, every now and then, you don’t double check. Perhaps working within the traditional AOR model isn’t the best way to do things. Maybe it’s time clients started double checking, even if you end up using the same agency every time. By doing this, you’re forcing us to stay hungry, you’re forcing us to be creative, and you’re forcing us to deliver results. If you, our client, don’t doubt us, how can we possibly trust ourselves?

So doubt us. Question our ideas. Bid your project to others. In the land of creatives, the best criticism we can receive is that we aren’t being bold, daring, or artful in our pursuit, while the best compliment we can receive is your business – every, single, time we EARN IT.