Why “Pay & Play” Digital Projects Don’t Work

March 31, 2020

Austeja Ziemba

“Pay to play” model is the idea of a vendorship mentality when entering a project. It’s the handing over of expectations or wants from a client to an agency, in the agency executing on them and tossing them back over the fence. The irony we find is that while a large majority of our clients are intending to drive away from that type of structure, they inevitably end up bringing it in as the project progresses.

Why? As an agency over the years we have tried to understand this natural diversions from stated goals and to unearth some of the more fundamental reasons of human nature that look to drive it. Below we talk a bit about the tendency of this to happen in projects and the high level drivers of such an occurrence. 

Tony: So, tell me if I’m wrong, but if I had to guess at least from my experience why the pay and you guys play and just do what you do and hand it back to me, doesn’t work in getting the reason for getting the buy-in at the beginning. I have experienced, it’s mostly, not mostly, it’s almost all emotional, right? Because I feel like, and there might be other dynamics, I’d be interested to hear from you on that front, but it’s, if you don’t have all the stakeholders or all the mines in the room at the beginning, what often happens is, the most common interruptions are, two months in, all of the sudden, “Cindy” gets introduced. And you’re like, “Oh hey, nice to meet you.” “Oh, yeah, we have some ideas.” “Did you guys factor these in?” “Well no, we’ve never heard of these ideas. We had no idea that this was a business goal.” Or there was a lack of. And those kind of pepper throughout. And then the other case, right, the “hey, we throw it over the fence to you, just let us know when it’s done.” It’s almost the same case, but it comes at the end, and I consider that “thrashing,” right? And so it’s the idea of the clients doing all the thrashing in the beginning instead of getting everyone in the same room, and saying, “Okay, here’s what we’re doing. Here’s how we’re doing it. Are there objections? Are there enhancements? Are there misperceptions that we need to help fix?”

Austeja: Sure.

Tony: It happens at the end, right? And then it’s easy for the client to say, “Oh, it’s all your fault.” Or it’s all, “Why didn’t you get us back to this end?” Is that accurate? Inaccurate?

Austeja: It’s accurate most of the time. I think a lot of times, we’re expected to be mind-readers, right? So how can we account for everybody, everybody’s point of view, and everybody’s perception, if we’ve never even spoken to them? So, I think many teams on the client’s side end up being either fragmented or, you know, maybe the communication isn’t there because there is many components to the business. And all those are fair points. What we can do as a vendor, as a partner, to these clients, is to promote that conversation, right? So in the beginning, we will be asking a lot of questions. We will push for all the stakeholders to be there. We will want transparency into what’s worked before and what hasn’t, and just pretty much agreement from the client on what the best communication level should be. Do they want monthly meetings? Do they want weekly meetings? And just, in general, avoid that main problem, which is that there’s an expectation that once you sign a project and the scope, that’s it. You know, the rest is up to us. And it really doesn’t work that way, because we do want to make sure. We’re constantly evolving through the project.

Tony: Excellent.

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