There was a time when advertising and PR agencies not only wanted to be marketing partners with their clients, but they actually were. In a 2008 Advertising Age article, positioning consultant Al Ries said, "An advertising partnership should operate in much the same way as a marriage partnership. When my wife says 'No,' that's pretty much something we won't do." Perhaps you think the marriage analogy is cliché. It is. But it is also 100% true.

Positioning consultant Jack Trout is fond of saying the trouble with advertising today is that "We're not in bed with our clients anymore." How did agencies lose their once esteemed position of power and influence?

No time to speechify here on all the reasons. Suffice to say that as in any marriage, it takes two to tango. Clients stopped valuing agencies as partners to be listened to. Agencies started selling advertising to their clients, rather than advertising that sells for their clients.

As positioning consultants, we sometimes come across prospects unfamiliar with our approach. They are likely to say something like, "We'll make the strategic decisions, and you do the advertising."

The fallacy in this thinking is that no positioning consultant can do great advertising unless the foundation is right. And the foundation of every brand is its positioning strategy.

If positioning consultants get that wrong, even the best advertising in the world won't get very far. Without a real product advantage (difference), advertising is just a gimmick. And if it is just a gimmick, it's going to fall apart, sooner rather than later.

Agencies that think their job is to sell advertising to clients who want it are not likely to concern themselves with fixing "strategic" problems. They will take the money and run. And, who could blame them?

In our opinion as positioning consultants, this is why too many agencies are concerned with fixing the advertising when their first concern should be fixing the problem.

Some strategy problems seem so obvious they're hard to miss. Sometimes it's as simple as a bad name. Other times, it's a market miscalculation, like the Apple Newton; too much, too soon, too confusing. Or, the problem is an illogical line-extension - Dove for men? Or, it could be a product that lacks a clear point of brand differentiation.

Whatever the issue, the positioning consultant that truly has the client's customers at heart has to be brave enough, intelligent enough, and secure enough to say, "No. Let's not do that, and here's why."

Why didn't Life Savers' agency tell the client Life Savers gum would never sell?

Why didn't Coca-Cola's agency tell the client that New Coke would never sell?

Why didn't Volkswagen's agency tell the client that an $80,000 VW would never sell?

Why didn't Coors' agency tell the client that Coors Rocky Mountain Sparkling Water would never sell?

Were these "advertising" failures?  No. These were "strategy" failures. The best advertising in the world can't make up for a bad idea. This is a lesson the positioning consultant must learn.

The positioning consultants at Innis Maggiore got into the ad business to "make companies successful through marketing." That's our purpose. It's painted on our wall.

Saying "Yes, ma'am" to the client when the "Yes" could lead to certain failure is not in our positioning consultant rulebook. That's why we have only one value on our wall, right under our mission statement. "Do the right thing for the right reason." We could have said, "Do the right thing for the popular reason." That, for us, would be easy to say, but impossible to do.

If you don't mind a positioning consultant's second opinion about your marketing idea, give us a call. We promise to recommend what will work. Not just what will sell you. That's how the marriage is supposed to work. Viva la partnership!

Lorraine Kessler is Innis Maggiore's Principal Client Services & Positioning Strategist.