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When Agency Values & Politics Impact New Business

Posted by Mark Duval on Jun 30, 2022 9:05:32 AM
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Between climate change, DE&I, and now abortion rights, many agency leaders are having more conversations about what their values are — and how those values are reflected.

People don’t take empty gestures and statements at face value anymore. In today’s world, people ask more questions and judge brands on their behavior. They make decisions about purchases, partnerships, and other affiliations based on shared values and the actions that demonstrate those values. Certainly, this is true for consumer-brand relationships, but it goes beyond that.

We have already witnessed brands exercising this discretion towards potential agency partners based on their sustainability and DE&I policies, including culture and values, demographic profile, hiring and promotion practices, and how they treat and retain their people. When it comes to new business, some brands eliminate agencies from consideration if they don’t reflect their own values in this way.

agency politics and values

Agencies who have worked with high-emissions clients or participated in greenwashing campaigns have recently been publicly called out and lost potential new business opportunities over it. Before that, the same thing happened with agencies working with tobacco corporations.

Now, we’re seeing headlines about corporations being “outed” for supporting politicians who oppose or support access to abortion—regardless of why they supported them or whether their political support is balanced across the political spectrum. 

When Business Insider reported on AT&T and Citi’s financial backing of lawmakers who have stood against women’s right to abortion, they were advised by business consultants that it “will likely become more difficult” for corporations to balance oppositional equity statements and financial investments. Diversity consultant Tara Jaye Frank, for example, pointed out that amid the current norm of “extreme transparency,” companies that try to play both sides (claim to stand for DE&I while also funding anti-choice politics) must have greater risk tolerance.

It would be naïve to think agencies will be immune to blowback from the abortion rights uproar. Agencies may be outed for their own support of politicians, their personnel policies (or lack thereof), and they may again face scrutiny for their client rosters. In these ways, some brands will undoubtedly factor abortion rights into their new business qualification process. 

Is your agency working for brands whose politics your people (or others) find abhorrent? Do you know what causes and political agendas your clients support? Are you in a position to be able to make relationship decisions around client politics even if you wanted to?

I’ve written previously about considerations around working with controversial clients or brands in regulated industries. The reality is that politics and values will continue to influence new business decisions and the client-agency relationships that follow.

So what? My suggestion is to be very clear about what your agency’s values are and secure internal alignment around what it means to live by them in today’s world. Positions that you might have taken in the past may be less tenable in 2022 (such as “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” and “We’re Switzerland”). What are you willing to risk? What are you ready to stand for? What are you willing to tolerate? And are you prepared for your agency’s values and politics to risk new business opportunities?

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Image credit: Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash


Topics: Agency New Business

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