Magazine article Marketing

Clients Speak out on Agencies: At a Time When Agencies Can't Afford to Lose Business, James Curtis Reports on What Clients Really Think of Their Services

Magazine article Marketing

Clients Speak out on Agencies: At a Time When Agencies Can't Afford to Lose Business, James Curtis Reports on What Clients Really Think of Their Services

Article excerpt

Despite some green shoots of recovery, the advertising recession is still with us, and client/agency relationships continue to face stiff tests. During the 1999-2000 boom, losing a client was bad, but new business was never far away. Now, there's no room for complacency -- it's time for agencies to hang on to what they've got. Strong relationships have never been more important.

Which is why Marketing teamed up with the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA),the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising (IPA) and Relationship Audits & Management, which conducted the survey, to poll industry opinion on the state of client/agency relationships. Questionnaires were sent to clients and agencies. These asked them to evaluate each other's performance, assessing all aspects of the partnership, from delivering value for money through creativity, to the ease with which people can be reached on the phone.

This week Marketing presents results from clients evaluating their lead above-the-line agency, while next week's Marketing will present results from agencies evaluating their highest-spending client.

"This survey is an important reminder to all sides of the industry of how useful it is to get clients and agencies talking about relationship issues," says Debbie Morrison, director of membership services at ISBA.

The need for such dialogue was highlighted two weeks ago at the ISBA conference when Carol Fisher, chief executive of COI Communications, the UK's biggest advertiser, accused ad agencies of failing to embrace the full range of marketing disciplines.

The clash between Fisher and Bruce Haines, IPA president, followed Haines' call for better collaboration between advertisers and their agencies if marketers wanted to see outstanding creative work. As a result, the two are planning to meet to try to mend what is now being termed a 'rift' between agencies and clients.

Conversely, the survey results, from 60 clients, 37% of which spend more than [pounds sterling]10m per year with their lead agency, are mostly positive.

It seems agencies are reacting to hard times by sharpening up their performance, with 85% of clients saying their agency's overall performance is either excellent, very good or good in most areas. But there remain specific areas where agencies still fall short of client expectations.

RELATED ARTICLE: What single thing do you think would improve your relationship with your lead above-the-line agency?

This question sparked a variety of client responses, with only one respondent from the total 60 saying they would change nothing.

Some answers were blunt in the extreme. One clearly disgruntled client spat: "Sack them -- they're only there for their percentage."

Many demanded more involvement in the client business, with comments such as: "They need to spend more time understanding our challenges and goals" and "They need to take more notice of the client's view with regard to creative work". Others clearly disagree, making comments such as: "They need to realise they are not the marketing department; they are a supplier to it."

And, contrary to COI's Fisher's comments urging multi-discipline work, one client said: "They should concentrate on the task in hand rather than selling other services they offer."

But a lot of the responses focused on improving creativity and taking more note of the client's wider business objectives. Separately from the survey, Nestle Rowntree director of marketing Andrew Harrison and Britvic Soft Drinks category director Andrew Marsden give their views on these issues.

Andrew Harrison, director of marketing, Nestle Rowntree

Looking at agencies in general, creativity is the area that is most in need of improvement.

There needs to be a shared belief in the creative product and the creative process. We need them to focus more on the creative output and less on the mechanics of how they get there. …

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