Put away the chisel and you’ll get a masterpiece

ChiselLike so many of us living in drought-ridden Southern California, my wife and I are looking to modify our home landscaping to soak up less water.  Some of my neighbors have simply ripped out their entire lawns and replaced them with gravel rock and cactus. That’s the cheap way out and it doesn’t beautify their homes one bit. Wanting to take a more aesthetic path, we called in two different landscape companies to quote on how they’d create a drought-resistant yard that still complements our house and neighborhood.

I had no idea what a good job might cost so we simply asked each company what they would do and what they’d charge for doing it.

The first quote came in from a company that did beautiful work and the owner really “got” what we wanted.  His quote was seventeen grand!  Eeyikes!  The second company came in at only eleven thousand, much more palatable, but I wasn’t as convinced about the artistry of their work.  I asked the first company how they could bring down their bid and the contractor said he could take this out and that out and it would reduce the bottom line some, but now I wasn’t getting what I wanted.

Given the initial six thousand dollar spread, my wife said it was a no-brainer: we should accept the lower bid…and I almost agreed.  Then it hit me.  I called up the first company again, the one I really wanted, and this time asked rather than bring down the initial bid, what could they do if I said create something wonderful for eleven thousand dollars?  This approach surprised the landscaper and he loved the challenge.  And needless to say, he came back with an entirely different design that was also wonderful while at the same time met our budget.

I realized that this is what happens to our agency all the time.  We get approached by a prospective client and are asked what it costs to work with us and develop a year’s marketing program.  If the prospective client hasn’t provided us a budget to start with, which is often the case, the moment we throw any number at them, they get sticker shock and that’s the end of the conversation.  What a shame. What usually happens after that is the company either takes some kind of budget approach and gets a poor outcome, or doesn’t make any change whatsoever and suffers all the more for it.

Why not do what I did with the landscapers?  Start by singling out the best talent possible and then, either on your own or together, arrive at a total budget that’s just below your pain threshold, one you can live with, and let the agency help you get the most bang for your buck.  Then you have the best of both worlds, the top talent and a budget to do the most effective job possible.

Taking the lowest bid or chiseling a good bid from the top only cuts down on possibilities.  Starting with a fixed amount and asking a supplier what’s the most you can get from it puts everybody in a creative mode, exactly where they all should be.

Whether you’re hiring a marketing agency, a freelance writer, a filmmaker or an engineering company, hiring based on talent, and budgeting based on your pain threshold (that only you alone can determine) will yield superior results.

In the meantime, I’m still praying for rain…


Dan Katz is president, creative director of LA ads. To discuss your thoughts with Dan on this blog or any marketing matters, email via this link, or visit www.LAadsMarketing.com.  You can also connect with Dan on LinkedIn. See agency work via this link.

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