Roundtable in association with Weber Shandwick
Research into client-agency relationships by Marketing Week and Weber Shandwick showed that many clients feel underserved. Why do you think this is?
Owen Jenkinson: I only occasionally feel underserved but when I don’t is when I’ve made sure the agency feels its success is intrinsically linked to ours. We introduced payment by results [PBR] a couple of years ago and it’s not a stick to beat agencies with, it’s linking success.
Richard Ingram: Clients feel underserved when their agencies are not strategically aligned. The old model of handing over a brief and leaving them to execute doesn’t work anymore. Measuring success or the deliverability of work based on time breeds inherent inefficiencies and doesn’t focus on the output, which is absolutely where my focus is. It’s in no way about screwing agencies over or having the lowest cost, it’s about fairness and being results-oriented.
Teresa Arbuckle: A collaborative approach is the best way to get the most out of an agency relationship. It makes each agency feel like it’s in partnership with the rest of the agencies and they get a chance to wrestle with some ideas without you, meaning they can come back with a proposition that is multi-faceted. It’s also a more effective use of the pounds you’ve given them to spend.
Aine Bryn: Fundamentally it’s about communication. What are you actually trying to achieve? You have to be very clear in helping them understand what needs to be done and what the success factors are. Never walk away from the table unless you know exactly what your expectation to deliver is. It’s amazing how many people walk away saying they ‘think’ they said something.
Giles Gordon: Setting expectation is very important, but to take it one step further it’s about forging a really strong emotional connection with the agency team. When they feel like an extension of your own brand team, that is when you can collaborate best strategically. That said, I think the question of how to remunerate that best is still up for debate.
Simon Hall: I’m rarely underserved for a long period of time by my agencies because, frankly, they wouldn’t be my agencies any more. The marketing department is under pressure from other areas of the business so it’s looking to an agency to bring the creativity to help change things for the business.
Clients indicated in the research that they preferred exercising control over the relationship rather than having agencies collaborating with one another autonomously. How does this match your approach?
Victoria Baker: In the early days we did have some interesting conversations around who owned what. We make sure that we have one lead agency that controls the overall deliverable and then leave the agencies underneath to work together themselves. We want to make sure that they’re delivering the right outcome for the business and really, it’s up to them to get us to that point.
“The people who developed the brand guidelines are the ones best placed to advise agencies”
Aine Bryn, PWC
Teresa Arbuckle: Our creative and media agencies are joint leads because they are equally important. We have a hub and spoke relationship where we call the meetings and set the objectives but we know that in the intervening period between the agencies talk to each other and align on the project. It helps them deliver an overall better campaign if they work together.
Rachel Friend: The best relationships we see are when agencies can come together and discuss the brief, coming up with a media-neutral idea that’s going to work for everyone. Then if we can come back as a collaborative business team that’s got the business need at the heart of it with a creative that will work and has involved the client along the way – we know it’s going to be right.
Is it better to employ more or fewer agencies?
Richard Ingram: The agency model in many respects isn’t fit for purpose right now. Having siloed agencies who work in siloed spheres isn’t the way the world works anymore. I have gone away from seven agencies to a single central strategy unit that is creatively aligned and media and channel agnostic. They create our strategies and then feed that down to the experts.
Aine Bryn: I’m not necessarily in favour of having one agency or multiple agencies. What concerns me is making sure whoever I’m working with understands what the success factors are and knows where that fits into the overall picture. The people who developed the brand guidelines are the ones best placed to advise agencies and it’s also about how you engage the agency with your in-house teams.
Brian Walmsley: There is tension that comes from PBR, with each agency trying to define what is their ‘bit’ and how they influence it, as well as the idea that all agencies are equal when actually the strategic part is still coming from the large advertising or media agencies. You want to have a culture among the agencies that breeds collaboration and it’s as much about a drink in a bar as a tight brief.
Teresa Arbuckle: Where we’re underserved is in the grey area that is digital. A lot of digital is a black hole where we could spend all of our budget on digital and still not achieve our goals. That’s what a lot of agencies grapple with most. Every agency pitches for digital propositions: PR companies are pitching bloggers, as is a digital agency, blogger agency and SEO agency. But again, there are 3,000 people reading those blogs and we need to reach 30 million people.
In Marketing Week and Weber Shandwick’s research into budgets, the last two quarters have seen a significant rise in the amount spent on social. How has this shift been reflected in your agency provision?
Owen Jenkinson: All our agencies will come to us with social ideas and I have no problem with it, but ultimately we had to put that activity back into silos because all the ideas became a bit of a storm.
Giles Gordon: There’s a feeling in the market that there’s still a remit for specialised agencies, however depending on how you remunerate it can really change the dynamics between your agencies. You need a grown up conversation that it’s everyone’s remit to come up with ideas, however if you have three agencies on a retainer who feel secure amplifying those ideas you’ll have the others thinking that if they don’t come up with an idea and execute it, they won’t get paid. It becomes a power struggle.
Richard Ingram: This goes back to why we have the central strategy unit – it gets rid of this struggle. The agreement is that we will create an amazing idea and then work out how to deliver it as a whole agnostic group, bringing in the experts to make it happen. I’ve structured the team internally to reflect this too.
“The agency is our eyes and ears and I’d be very disappointed if they weren’t coming in and inspiring us”
Giles Gordon, Kao UK
Rachel Friend: We’ve also watched this change over the last few years from an agency perspective. We’ve been working with communications directors, digital teams, the brand marketing teams and even the people in customer service. While the channels to reach the customer have moved on, the internal teams servicing them haven’t. It’s also very interesting that PR agencies are still trying to own the conversation because we grew up in a world where our job was influencing people. It’s been a bit strange for us to watch the ad agencies saying ‘we’ll engage bloggers’.
Teresa Arbuckle: I’m always surprised when working with junior marketers that they don’t understand that marketing is a numbers game. They say we’ve got this great social media campaign and it’s reaching 3,000. Well, you aren’t really getting out of bed for that one.
Clare Lusher: Digital innovation is very seductive but going back you look at the reach and realise it may not be worth the spend. But because we represent many youth brands we’ve got to be seen to be supporting digital innovation especially in social. Reach is not a problem in social but cut-through is.
Does your agency adequately fill its role as an educator and provider of expertise?
Owen Jenkinson: We do try things that don’t always have scale purely because they are innovative and that in itself says something about the brand. Our media agency is very good at sharing new innovations with us, probably because we bred that relationship with them.
Clare Lusher: There does have to be some caution around what agencies’ perception of innovation is because unless they are truly on point with your objectives you can go back to being seduced.
Richard Ingram: It’s one hundred per cent fine for the agencies to have the expertise and not us because that’s what we’re employing them for. Every quarter we have inspiration sessions for the whole team with Google or Channel Four for example. Being exposed to these things can only be great for inspiring the teams.
Giles Gordon: The agency is our eyes and ears and I’d be very disappointed if they weren’t coming in and inspiring us. Sometimes you get presented with the shiny new thing and you still need to come back to the objectives. I’m willing to do a bit of test and learn but I believe we’re a bit beyond that and I need to know these things are going to meet my needs around scale.
Simon Hall: One of the agency’s roles is as facilitator to bring in and share expertise and new ways of approaching challenges. We’re seeing interesting ideas from our communities around technology – originally used for cyber security – and it’s not something we’d ever have got from our agency. It’s just one of those things you stumble across as a marketer. If there’s an over-reliance on the agency you’ll fail as a marketer.
What are the main characteristics of a really good agency experience for you?
Clare Lusher: We recruited a brilliant PR agency called Murray Chalmers whose roster is huge, including Kylie Minogue and Coldplay. We needed an agency with lots of leverage with the media to promote our new SummerSault festival. They used their weighty roster to help secure us coverage and it’s a good example of how an agency can add value. But they also needed our festival on their client list because they were lacking this element to help them add live music to their expertise.
Brian Walmsley: In a previous role we were trapped in the ‘aloe vera’ strategy, where you take a product and put in an aloe vera extension and that’s your innovation cycle. Having done immersive groups with our agency the insight was that bathtime and lack of sleep is what brings new parents to their knees, so for Johnson & Johnson we launched a bedtime bath product. It was very successful until an own label copied us and we lost about half the market share. But then working with our agency we came up with a set of keywords around ‘seven baths, seven nights, more zeds’, using a social campaign saying ‘try this for seven nights’. We got half of those share points back.
And what have been your worst experiences?
Teresa Arbuckle: The worst is when we’ve been part of a networked agency where they feel constrained by global communications without much room to manoeuvre. We always try to mix it up and help the agency to be more creative because otherwise they won’t be very motivated.
Giles Gordon: Given the amount of energy and time my team and I have had to spend, as well as agencies themselves, the whole power struggle in the past has not been a pleasure. And it’s still very much a hot topic.