The withdrawal of incumbent Delaney Lund Knox Warren & Partners (DLKW) from Pearson’s global creative review of its Financial Times account (MW last week) came as a surprise to many industry observers. The agency has held the business for 16 years. New business wins may be the lifeline of agencies, but client stability is just as crucial to building a positive image.
Repitching is not a task agencies undertake with relish. Whatever one’s feelings about DLKW’s advertising for the FT – consider its use of a version of popular ditty “There’s a hole in my bucket”, compared with Ogilvy & Mather’s “No FT, no comment” – the agency would hope to have had little to do with the newspaper’s falling circulation and profits. Being asked to repitch when the client feels ready to launch a comeback with a renewed commitment to marketing must be “heart breaking”, says one observer.
A rival agency boss adds: “A repitch means a breakdown in a client/agency relationship, and there is usually a hidden agenda such as costs and commission rates. With DLKW, it might just have been a case of it not being convinced of a level playing field, with Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy already tipped as the front runner.”
Relationships break down for a variety of reasons. Intermediaries point out that a basic lack of effective communication about expectations can lead to splits.
Stuart Pocock, a partner at Agency Assessments, says his team is called in when either client or agency recognises that the relationship is floundering. “The principal reason is the creative is not working, which then escalates into account management going off-beam,” he explains. “And all of which could have been triggered by a terrible brief from the client.”
No one’s to blame
But irrespective of whether the client or the agency is to blame, the intermediaries hope to patch things up even in desperate situations. The Haystack Group managing director Suki Thompson says that a lack of trust, due to a mismatch of expectations about the client/agency strategic and creative relationship, is one of the key reasons for a separation.
“Agencies need to invest more time in developing the relationship to suit the changing needs of the clients,” she states. “Sometimes the client could be quite happy with the agency and the delivery of its creative product, but it might be moving in a new direction – such as having bigger ambitions for a brand – and feels that the agency is not suited to take it to the next level.”
Stories of difficult and “promiscuous” clients, or arrogant agencies, are not hard to come by. The AAR says almost 70% of its clients arrive when a relationship has broken down irrevocably. Chief executive Kerry Glazer says: “A relationship management programme needs to be incorporated in every agency/client contract to show equal commitment. But this might be difficult to achieve when, even today, formal contracts are not signed.”
When things go wrong
Fear of losing potential business, a lack of understanding of complicated jargon, or a simple oversight because of pressure of work contribute to agencies and clients entering a relationship informally, only to be thrown into dispute “when things turn sour”.
The AAR does not currently offer a counselling service to mediate when difficulties arise. However, it has started testing a “hand holding” model as part of its search and selection programme. A precise formula to preserve the delicate and finely balanced affair between clients and agencies may never be found, but the search for harmony goes on.