Insight: The client/agency relationship by Chris Fry

At Agency Insight we spend all of our time around senior agency and client people. Working alongside them as architects of relationships that often endure over long periods and result in fantastic work in response to finely-honed client briefs.

In this privileged position we get to hear what clients say about agencies and vice versa. It surprised us when we were looking for the one complaint that is common to both. Interestingly, it has nothing to do with money. It’s all around the word ‘SLOW’. This has probably been the case for over a century, but we can report that agencies continue to think that clients are slow to approve work and clients think that agencies are slow to come up with it.

With good systems and a tight briefing process at the agency selection stage, alongside the establishment of clear relationship guidelines, these problems can be surmounted. But what happens when it’s time to move on, to review the agency arrangement? Should the incumbent agency be invited to pitch or not?

If they stand a real chance of winning it, then yes. However, If the client is just going through the motions to be seen as good guys, then no. Put the agency out of its misery early if there is just too much baggage to make them a realistic winner. Any incumbent should be at least 20-30% ahead in terms of knowledge, understanding and direction than newcomers. We seldom see this. Involving them in the pitch when they stand little chance wastes everyone’s time and could sap valuable agency resource that might be better focused on finding that elusive answer to the brand’s future success.

It’s also worth thinking about agencies at the end of the process. Our advice would be: remember the losers. These are the majority of agency people that take part in a pitch – at least 66% of them in the final rounds will come away with nothing.

Clients should remember how much thought these people have put in, and make sure to be respectful of this and set aside some time to run through how and why the decision was made. Snippets offered to agencies on the decision-making process can prove to be valuable to them. For instance, one agency in a process Agency Insight worked on was surprised to be told: “Don’t do anything differently next time as you’ll probably win it”. What was being fed back was “it just went the way it went on the day.” Even this, we gather, was useful and was appreciated by an agency that could be asked in future to pitch again for the same brand.

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