The Dysfunctional Agency-Client Relationship

When it comes to those working in the creative communications, advertising, marketing, and related fields, there is no better place to discuss agency-client relationships than at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity global event. “The Naked Truth” did just that at the 2014 Cannes Forum presented by RPA (a fully integrated advertising agency in Santa Monica). With partnership of USA TODAY, RPA conducted a completely anonymous online survey of 143 senior-level agency and brand marketing leaders in an effort to uncover the “naked truth” about the agency-client relationship and what it means for creativity. Check out this teaser video to see what’s not being said aloud by agencies and clients.

As a company that is focused on connecting brand marketers with specialist agencies, we at AgencySparks weren’t at all surprised by some of the topics covered in this video. We try to understand the pain points from both sides of the spectrum, and in doing so, we have uncovered some brutal and honest confessions that we would have not otherwise discovered if we weren’t helping talented marketing agencies grow and helping brand marketers find the best agencies for their marketing challenges. AgencySparks conducts elaborate interviews with an agency’s past clients, current clients and staff to supplement the Marketing Readiness Reports that we use to vet our agency partners. These interviews reveal similar “naked truths” like the ones discussed in this RPA, USA Today, and in the Cannes Lions infographic below.

the naked truth

It’s become clear to us that agencies and clients are not always on the same page. We shared an article to our Facebook followers last week, which revealed the naked truth behind the agency-client relationship that incited some social engagement on the topic. We are certainly happy to encourage a healthy debate, especially when there are differences of opinion from our readers about why the agency-client relationship.

It’s true, the average agency-client tenure is thought to be less than three years (The Bedford Group). Trust between the two parties leads to the best advertising work and encourages long-standing relationships. We think Jamie Bloomquist said it best when he commented on our post:  “It’s like the two parties need couples counseling.”

We talked about the power of dialogue between agencies and clients in our previous blog post, and about making the most of their relationship by openly communicating needs and expectations upfront. Ultimately, marketers want their agencies to focus on the client needs and keep best interests and strategic goals top-of-mind. Agencies want to feel more like business partners to their clients by offering additional marketing services, taking their advice on more risk, and being more transparent with their approach to solving clients’ problems. Would you agree?

Couple's Therapy for the Agency-Client Relationship Infographic - Tim Leak's 4-point plan for increasing trust.

Couple's Therapy for the Agency-Client Relationship Infographic - Tim Leak's 4-point plan for increasing trust.

The incentives have to align so that this problematic relationship will not persist. Tim Leake, SVP of Growth and Innovation at RPA, suggests the four-point plan for increasing trust:

1. “Focus as much on interpersonal communication as we do mass communication.”

Ineffective communication, with the client – and within the agency itself – can lead to misunderstanding, which causes confusion and leads to blame and hostility. Speak your mind freely and share your opinions.

2. “Work with our clients to define and better understand the evolving role of creativity.”

Agencies put a premium on creativity, but sometimes creativity can mean something else for the client. Discuss a shared definition of creativity to produce killer work results. This is a critical component, considering marketing and advertising is constantly redefined each year.

3. “Support our clients in recognizing the distinction between ‘different’ and ‘risky’.”

Clients appreciate a willingness to test new ideas, but before selling them on any ideas make sure it is strategic.

4. “Practice the art of business as much as the art of advertising.”

If you want to prove to your clients that you care about their business success focus on the same goal/ROI. This is one of the benefits that we talk about in our blog post Why Specialist Agencies Are Superior. When you truly understand the category and business that your client is in, you will impact their business with great ideas.




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