Networks face global challenge

A new report provides valuable insights into the current relationship between Europe’s leading agencies and their clients. M&M Europe’s 1998 Advertiser Survey also points to some of the constraints that advertisers face in selecting and working with the best pan-European and international agencies.

Of particular relevance to international marketing practitioners are the responses of the 164 marketing directors to questions about globalisation. Seventy seven per cent of respondents believe advertising is becoming more global, while 59 per cent – an increase of four per cent on last year – are confident that “advertisers will increasingly want one single agency to handle all their business”.

Less encouragingly, advertisers are finding it difficult to appoint networks capable of delivering communications which are consistent from one country to the next.

“Only 39 per cent of marketing directors completely agree that the main strength of ad agency networks is their knowledge of how to conduct international campaigns,” the report reveals.

Findings such as these suggest there is a need for agency networks to improve the level and market-to-market consistency of service that they give to multinational clients.

Furthermore, against a background of client globalisation, agencies are keen to present themselves as offering an “international” service. Yet, in reality, only a handful of networks offer comprehensive regional and international coverage. Even fewer can lay claim to majority ownership and control of the majority of their network’s constituent agencies, which is often the key to ensuring a true blend of central strategic direction coupled with local knowledge and expertise, consistency of service and effective co-ordination structures.

The survey reflects another growing concern. As more clients seek to globalise, overly-strict interpretation of what constitutes genuine client conflict has led to a situation where advertisers are limiting their choice of agency.

Traditionally, client account conflict has been an important consideration for advertisers when choosing a network. But with more advertisers seeking global communications excellence from a limited pool of agencies, strict interpretation of what constitutes genuine account conflict is preventing many companies from using those agencies best equipped to help build their brands internationally.

It would be unrealistic for international agencies to expect client companies to redefine radically their attitude to conflict overnight. But by approaching this issue more flexibly and realistically with their existing agencies, or those that they would ideally like to pitch for their business, advertisers should gain access to improved international services without encountering any of the supposed risks too often mistakenly attributed to the issue of conflict.

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