There are literally thousands of books that will tell you how to manage a brand. And there are at least that many that will tell you how to run a company. Put those together and you might have the number that will tell you how to take care of the people you’re leading to do both of those things.

I know this because in addition to making advertising and teaching it, I review books on it at The Agency Review. And every time I think I’ve read all that there are, the mailman shows up with a dumpster full of new ones and drops them on my desk.

But there’s one important part of being successful – especially in the marketing space – that these books are frustratingly silent on and it’s this: How to client.

How to What?

How to “client”. How to use the resources you and others like you are spending 500 billion dollars a year on to solve the most important problems you’re facing.

500 billion dollars on advertising – and that’s just the media buy - and no one is telling anyone how to do it right? Madness. I mean, if you gave someone a 500 billion dollar hammer, you‘d sure as hell make sure they knew how to use it, wouldn’t you?

So let’s do that, with a few things that I’ve learned from friends of mine from the other side of the table who did it righter than most.

You Have Lots of Agencies

Think back to how shocked you were when you learned that you didn’t have just one Don Draper and crew to deal with, but a dozen. One to handle “above the line”. One to handle digital. One to handle social. One to handle shopper. One to handle sports. One to handle media. One to handle digital media. One to handle events. One to handle PR. One to handle, god knows what but they always seem to be in the room when a new project was being briefed.

Now, the reason you have all these agencies, you learn, is because marketing is a truly multi-media experience and each one of those shops – theoretically at least – is an expert in their specific discipline.

It’s like having a vast toolbox full of hammers and screwdrivers and saws and whatever, all specifically designed to effectively and efficiently do particular jobs particularly well.

Unfortunately all those saws and hammers and what-have-you are at war with each other. Because they’re all owned by holding companies who are forcing them to pitch against each other’s core competencies in order to increase revenue. Because they’re all aligned with, or partnered to, sister shops that can do stuff that the other agencies in your stable are currently getting paid to do. Which means they spend a lot of their time – the time you’re paying them for - essentially figuring out ways to stab each other in the back.

You Have One Job

This dysfunctional party is only made worse because most marketers don’t know what THEIR job is in the context of all these agencies.

So let’s be clear about it: Your job is to be in the problem business.

Wait, what?

You are the person who looks at the brand or the product or the service and really digs deep into what’s wrong, or isn’t working, or needs to be fixed, or is on the horizon that you need to prepare for.

And then when you have figured out what the problem is, you’re the one who thinks about which of those experts you have on retainer is focused on the area that problem lives in.

Is it a problem of awareness? Then your shopper agency probably isn’t the one to solve it. Is it one of sales lift? Then it probably is, but your PR shop might not be. Should your digital shop be involved? I don’t know – do you have an e-commerce component that they’re engaged with?

(I didn’t say it was an easy job, I just said it was your job)

How you do it

And then, when you’ve figured out the problem, and figured out who’s best built to solve it, you do this:

You get the hell out of their way.

You get the hell out of their way and do everything in your power NOT to have a solution. And that’s the hardest part of the job.

That way, when they bring you the work, when they bring you the solution to your problem that you’re paying them for, you can look at it in terms of the problem – and not in terms of how well it echoes the idea you had in your head.

How do you know if it solves the problem? You ask them. And you ask them how they’ll know. And if they show you something you don’t understand, you ask them to explain it to you in terms of the problem. And if you see something that you just think is wrong, you ask them to justify it with examples of why it’s not wrong.

But always in terms of the problem. The problem you figured out, the problem you are paying them to solve for you.

And if they can’t do it – any part of it - then you’re perfectly justified in finding someone who can.

Because when you get right down to it, that’s why clients pay agencies – to help them solve problems. Right?