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Let’s All Stop Tiptoeing around the “B” Word.

The budget tango - the dance clients and agencies do around the marketing budget.

The budget tango – the precious dance clients and agencies do around the marketing budget.


There, I said it. I’ve never been a fan of surprises.

There’s a silly little dance that takes place in most client-agency relationships around the subject of budgets. I call it the budget tango. Clients want to know what the plan is for the year and how much it’s going to cost. Agencies want to know, among other things, how much money they have to work with.

In my experience, clients rarely share that precious annual marketing nest egg that is bestowed upon them from above. Why? If we have an agency-of-record agreement, we’re obviously a trusted partner, right? Many clients fear that if they tell their agency what their overall marketing budget is, the agency will spend it all. Um, isn’t that what you hired us for? I promise, we won’t spend 95% of your budget on agency fees designing ads and 5% on paid media so people can see these great ads without your approval.

OK, so maybe your company is incentivized or rewarded for not spending your entire marketing budget. Fine. Then have an idea of how much you do want to spend and tell your agency that amount so we can conceptualize and execute a quality communications platform.

Let’s take a break for a (completely irrational) real-life example.

Not many people can go to their realtor and say, “Find me a house that has four bedrooms, two-and-a-half baths, in the perfect neighborhood — I don’t care how much it costs.” Most of the people who can do that buy houses with seven bedrooms and seven bathrooms (who needs 7 bathrooms?!?). So let’s be serious — budget is important. Just ask any agency new business person. The first thing he or she looks for when reviewing a new RFP is the budget — is one listed, and if so, how much is it? — to see if it’s worth responding.

Marketing budgets often seem to appear out of thin air. Another line we hear from time to time is, “Well, if the plan is really good, or you come up with a really good idea that we can’t say no to, we’ll find the money to make it work.” I appreciate the vote of confidence. However, what we hear is that there is money somewhere that could be allocated to marketing.

A quality relationship is built on trust. Trust that your agency has your company’s best interests in mind. After all, if you’re successful, we’re successful. Be open with your agency about your company, your goals and your budget. It will lead to a better product and a stronger relationship. I bet you didn’t see this getting all mushy, did you? Surprise!

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