Many clients do not feel they get the best out of their agencies (and vice versa). With agency costs being one of the highest expenditures a marketing department has, it makes sense that the added value creativity is carefully nurtured and managed.
So where is it going wrong? When I talk to both sides, I hear ‘It’s their fault’. Clients are often disappointed by the value delivered by their agencies, citing that their agencies do not understand our business. And agencies feel the client is not brave enough or visionary enough to buy their work.
Clients also question the intention of the work they are shown – is it really focused on driving their business or driving the agency’s business through awards etc (even though the Gunn report has clearly demonstrated that highly creative work is more likely to be effective than non-award winning work).
Add to this a series of interconnected issues:
-The FD in client organisations is putting increased pressure on the Marketing function to perform (ROI is key)
-Marketing teams are being reduced
-Procurement are squeezing agency revenues
-The Marketing budget is now being split between a growing multiple of different agencies (eg Social media agency, Gaming agency, CRM agency, Ad agency, Media agency, PR agency, Web agency etc etc)
-Agency remuneration (vs rewards in other professions) means the talent is going elsewhere reducing the added value.
-Increased risk aversion to new creative work (resulting in a research-Client-Agency co-creation triumvirate).
Thus there is even more pressure on agencies and clients to deliver under increased constraints. But the answer does not lie in further squeezing and controlling – but in a more counter-intuitive approach of letting go. The answer lies in both sides working together not against each other.
So what has to happen? We need the two groups to come together behind a shared vision to ‘fight a common enemy’; to recognise the strengths and roles of the individuals in the team; to encourage open discussion that is focused on the issues and not the people. The team also need to ‘let go’ (otherwise they can never move on). The trouble agencies have is their arrogance that they are already great at relationships – but the reality is the goldfish never knows they are in water!
Paul Arnold is a consultant specialising in developing agency/client relationships (firstname.lastname@example.org)