Why do Marketing agencies charge for thinking time?

Marketing agencies charge for thinking time because it is the foundation upon which all of your other budget is spent. Dedicating the time upfront to do research and thinking means that the work is built on true insight rather than assumption. It means that media spend is going to the right channels and that the messaging will be as compelling as possible to each of the target audience segments. 

Clients (particularly new ones) occasionally ask this super awkward question, and it doesn’t get any easier to answer. It is, after all, the least tangible of our services. Why do Marketing agencies charge for thinking time? What are we actually thinking about? How do they know that we have not just naffed off to the pub and classed a chat over a beer as ‘thinking time’?!

While that’s not to say inspiration doesn’t sometimes strike at the strangest of times, the thinking time at the start of a project is vital. With any new client or project we always allow for time up front in the budget to get to know their business and products/services, their market and their customers. And we log all billable hours, so a client can see exactly how that time is spent.

So what exactly is ‘thinking time’?

This is the discovery stage at the start of a project. We spend time getting to know everything we can about the client. We study their products and services, their target audience and the wider marketplace and their niche in it. Knowledge is power, and in this instance knowledge means that the creative brief will be packed to the brim with genuine insight. We generate this insight though desk research, qualitative and quantitative customer research, store or site visits, trips out with the sales team and more. We’ll then do an invaluable customer audit which enables us to segment the audience and create personas. We also conduct a market audit which examines the key market dynamics and what they mean for our client.

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Can I be involved in my marketing Agency’s ‘Thinking Time’?

Absolutely! As much as we possibly can, we involve the client in this part of the creative process. Who knows the business, the customer and the marketplace better? We usually facilitate a structured workshop and invite the client along. We often find that clients come to these workshops filled with trepidation. They’re usually worried that they will be asked to say and do things that are outside of their comfort zone. This is definitely not the case! We strive to make workshops as enjoyable as possible and do everything we can to spark creative thinking and generate brilliant ideas. It’s good to get out of the office once in a while right?

We often have clients tell us at the end of one of these sessions just how much they have enjoyed them. They are usually amazed at how much they have learned about their business. After all, how often do we set aside a whole day for what is essentially (albeit very useful) navel gazing!


How do you measure thinking time?

As an example, an education client briefed us on a social media campaign. The goal was to engage with teachers during the final stages of the summer holidays when they were starting to think about lesson planning again. Before we leapt into action, we surveyed teachers to find out what channels they turned to when lesson planning. The answer was a huge surprise to all of us and significantly altered our direction and strategy. As a result the campaign drove three times as much traffic to the clients website as the previous years’ campaign. So, while it can often be difficult to see the impact a survey such as this might make on your bottom line in the first instance, the impact it can have is staggering.

Another example relates to a rebrand we completed for a client. They were very clear about who they were as a business at the first meeting. They were confident in their brand identity and what distinguished them from their competitors. One customer survey later and armed with their customer insight we approached the rebrand in a very different way to what we might have done if we didn’t have that insight.

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When should you not pay for thinking time?

That’s a tricky one. Every agency has different processes and methods and it’s not for us to say who is right and wrong. However, thinking time should probably be included within your monthly fee if you are on a retainer with an agency. Plus as with any long-standing relationship they should quickly get to grips with what makes your business tick, and your business and marketing strategies. That said, if you are briefing them on a new campaign or product launch, they will still need time to understand the lay of the land.


Why should I pay for you to think?!

Hopefully, the preceding paragraphs should have answered that question. It’s because it makes the difference between creative work that delivers and work that doesn’t quite hit the mark. Ultimately the purpose of marketing is to impact the bottom line of the business. Without true insight and consideration, you’re striking out there and hoping for the best.

We charge for our ‘thinking time’ or discovery because solid understanding and a clear strategy is the foundation of answering any brief. How can we to ace the exam if we haven’t done our homework?! Any decent marketing agency should be doing the same.

Are you looking for a thoroughly planned marketing campaign? Why not approach an agency? Someone like…Workshop!

By Helen Walker