Client overview of agencies

By John Hooper, director general of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers

That value should once again have emerged as the key criterion for assessing an advertising agency should surprise no one. With current media price inflation, the emphasis placed by marketing directors on value simply reflects the pressure being placed on them in their own companies. This in no way diminishes the continuing importance of creativity, but once again emphasises that creativity must always be assessed in the context of business effectiveness.

Clients are seeking effective advertising that builds business at the lowest cost. Recent group discussions, at the Marketing Forum revealed residual client worries about “primadonna creative arrogance” in agencies, seemingly divorced from the realities of today’s harsh business environment. Agencies must continue to strive for creative solutions to business needs, but effectiveness reigns in clients’ hierarchy of importance.

As far as individual rankings go, those agencies that have moved up can congratulate themselves. But small year-over-year shifts are unlikely to be of any real significance to clients. J Walter Thompson and BMP DDB Needham’s performance is commendably predictable, whereas Saatchi & Saatchi London’s slip may have more to do with the difficulties of its parent company than its continued excellent performance as an agency. No doubt clients of some of the newer shops such as Simons Palmer and Duckworth Finn will be pleased to see their choice nudging into the top 25. On the other hand, those clients of Young & Rubicam, A&P Lintas and GGT may just have some niggling concerns about the way their agencies are perceived. However, general perceptions are for nothing if the agency is performing outstandingly on your own business. This is what the new management of all three of these agencies need to emphasise.

Clients feel that agency relationships are important in the development of effective marketing communications. While the criteria used in this survey are entirely valid, they do not reflect all of the elements of a successful relationship. These also include open and honest communications, transparency, both of costs on the agency side and budgets on the client side, clear objectives and expectations from the start and that all-important personal chemistry.

Clients and agencies should be striving for better long-term relationships, with fewer unnecessary pitches.

For agencies, long-term relationships give greater security, which in turn produces better quality work from more motivated staff. For clients, long-term relationships give greater efficiency, faster response and a consistency of message. If we all strive for longevity, both sides of the essential relationship will benefit.

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