Small clients fail to get the service they deserve

It is often said that media is a relationship business. It can be defined further as providing media services and expertise to clients. But what does that mean to clients in practice? What happens after client and agency have got past their first meeting?

To find out, PHD Compass carried out detailed independent research among a cross-section of 40 UK advertisers.

The principal point to emerge was that the more the definition of service is tested, the less satisfied the client becomes. This is especially true of small- to medium-sized advertisers (which spend between 2m to 5m a year), particularly if they employ large media companies.

At best, satisfaction with the executional parts of the service often gives way to disappointment. For this group of advertisers, a lack understanding of their business, poor strategic planning, and the junior personnel employed on their accounts, left them with low expectations of large agencies beyond media buying.

But this group of clients represents a substantial proportion of UK display advertising, so why is this happening?

I am sure it is much less to do with the quality of people in media companies and much more to do with their culture and priorities. For this “middle England” community of advertisers there is a growing gap between the global agendas of large media companies and the niche marketing trends many of these UK advertisers seek to exploit.

The “think global, act local” strategy may well be a reality for global clients, but indications are that equivalent tailored resources are not made available to smaller UK-based clients.

In contrast to global priorities, smaller advertisers look to access the benefits of a fragmenting media world as they seek to strengthen their relationships with the various subsets of consumers most relevant to them.

The challenge for a media company attempting to meet the needs of such customers is to deliver local solutions across a range of media, rather than simply offering a volume-based buying rationale.

In the past, media buying security was a major reason to go with a large agency, however there is a lot of uncertainty whether the current trend for large agency mergers is good for smaller companies.

It is a democratic market and if this “middle England” constituency is so inclined, it can vote with its feet. But if the exercise we have been through clarified anything, it was that the needs of these core UK clients will not be fully met by large media-buying companies if all they seek to offer is strength through size.

It is likely that smaller clients will question their loyalty to the big agencies as the gap between what the agency promises and the service it actually delivers becomes increasingly apparent.


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