Do Clients & Agencies Need Marriage Guidance?

Posted 04/12/2015

The most bizarre agency review that I’ve ever been involved in took place a few years ago. The incumbent agency had the slot just after lunch and had hired a room on the top floor of a small restaurant. Nothing particularly strange so far but when we arrived at the address, the agency had dressed the room as a wedding reception complete with white flowers, bubbly, a seating plan and chairs with fancy white covers on them! Their thinking was that, as the incumbent agency, they viewed the whole review process as an opportunity to really get to know and understand their client again and ultimately renew their “vows” together. Their thinking worked and they retained the business and although their theatrical approach was very over the top it does raise a few questions about client/agency relationships and the need for impartial marriage guidance, especially as clients are expecting more from their media agencies than ever before.

Do both client & agency recognise their cultures and work hard to bring them together?

Usually not! Yes, there are chemistry sessions during most pitches but once the agency is up and running neither side normally thinks about the culture as something that should be reviewed, developed or tended regularly. 

Do clients regularly discuss what they really need from their agency?

Usually not! Yes, there are briefs of variable quality that focus on campaign requirements (or worse, what the plan needs to look like) but in terms of the broader more business related challenges, of which marketing is just a part, these are very rarely mentioned. 

Do clients and their agencies regularly discuss how they feel?

Definitely not! The day-to-day service provided is usually measured annually (and sometimes incentivised) but these tend to focus on specific KPIs that the agency is expected to deliver. They don’t include any of the softer relationship aspects and definitely don’t give the agency an opportunity to talk about the client. 

Can clients and their agencies really be open and honest with each other and with themselves?

Potentially, yes! Some clients & their agencies work very closely together and do have an open and honest relationship, although they tend to be led very clearly from the top and by people who are normally not closely involved in the day-to-day activities. These types of relationship are still rare, with most clients & agencies either not realising they need to talk or finding it very difficult to have the right types of discussions at the right time. 

So do clients and their agencies need marriage guidance?

Ultimately, the answer is yes, clients & their agencies do need some form of impartial marriage guidance and procurement departments are in an ideal place to help, ensuring their marketing colleagues and their agency partners live happily together. But they must be able to guarantee that everyone is willing to hear the good, bad and the ugly and then facilitate doing something about it, together. 

Like any good marriage, the client/agency relationship works best if there is on-going open and honest conversation, combined with a clarity of need, a willingness to work together to get the most from the partnership and an understanding of the other party’s culture, point of view and areas of expertise. But if those simple conversations don’t happen, the risks are great for both parties. Divorce is a messy and costly business!

Tagged by topic: Business & Stakeholder Engagement , Marketing , SRM

  by Tony Squires

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