‘Client/agency trust issues still threaten marketing’s success’

Cannes Lions 2014: Both client and agency-side marketers agree the best work comes when clients trust their agencies, but there are still a number of trust issues between the two threatening the success of marketing output, according to new research released at Cannes today.

Marketer meeting
Study from RPA and USA Today finds marketing industry ‘trust problem’.

The study from US ad agency RPA and newspaper USA Today found almost two thirds of both the marketers (61 per cent) and agency executives (70 per cent) surveyed admitted they do not share the same version of creativity. Just a quarter (25 per cent) of marketers believe the best creative work can move their business, while nearly half (48 per cent) of agency executives believe this to be the case.

Meanwhile, the majority (75 per cent) of agency executives say their clients are too afraid to take risks, while half (56 per cent) of marketers say their agencies are more interested in selling them work than solving problems.

There also appears to be a clash of personalities in meetings. While 88 per cent of marketers claim to speak their mind freely, of the agency leaders who frequently interact with clients, only a third (36 per cent) believe this to be true.  

RPA’s senior vice president of growth and innovation, Tim Leake, says the research, which was based on a survey of more than 140 US advertising and marketing executives, shows the industry “has a trust problem”.

That said, clients get the agencies they deserve, according to Ian Priest, president of the IPA and founding partner of VCCP, who says brand marketers need to share the responsibility for making the relationship fit for purpose.

He adds: “[The IPA is] calling for a psychological contract, to sit alongside a commercial contract, to force more focus on relationship principles of trust, motivation and partnership because all our evidence demonstrates that these are vital to a productive, commercially creative outcome…the first 100 days of any new relationship are critical to setting the tone for the longer term, and intermediaries are now working with us to put this into practice in the market.”

Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy and best practice at ISBA, agrees it is up to both sides to define needs and to meet them clearly from the outset and suggests that away days can help to start valuable conversations.

“Clients and agencies do need to take more time to talk with each other about more strategic relationship issues like expectations of creativity. All too often they dive straight into a project with neither side really aware what the other’s vision is.” 

Another issue not often brought to light is that trust at senior levels of the client-agency relationship can sometimes mask a lack of trust at the day to day coalface, where “chaos and misunderstanding is reigning”, according to Kerry Glazer, CEO of intermediary AAR.

“This can be insidiously negative and starts to inch back up into the hitherto strong and trusting senior relationship, doing real damage to something that has been hard one,” she adds.

Glazer says the way to avoid this is by caring out regular, mutual performance evaluation across all levels of the team, not just senior chats.

She adds: “In our experience, we know that clients prefer a more formal process to raising issues whereas agencies prefer informal routes which don’t fully address the niggles that lurk in all relationships and allow them to evolve into issues.”

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