Study reveals secrets of good client-agency relationships

Marketers who achieve 'client of choice' status may see their agencies' commitment upped by as much as 28%.

Achieving ‘client of choice’ status can result in marketers’ agencies upping their commitment by as much as 28%, according to the results of a mammoth data-mining study conducted by London, UK-based APRAIS.

Conducted in collaboration with the Advertising and Marketing Communications Roundtable (a division of Corporate Executive Board), the study came about because ‘Clients were asking how to get the best out of their agencies,’ explains Rupert Brendon, a principal at Toronto-based Ad ROI (APRAIS’ Canadian partner).

The analysis was based on data from more than 1,400 agency-client relationships and several million individual questions answered through the APRAIS client-agency evaluation system earlier this year. Among the focuses were the factors that drive agency commitment to client accounts, including how talent is allocated, how deeply agency management is involved with the client, their level of initiative and their willingness to work as a business partner beyond advertising (all things most advertisers say they want from their partners).

‘To become client of choice and get better work from your agency, you can learn from the ratings used in the APRAIS system,’ Brendon tells MiC. ‘In addition to clients evaluating their agencies, agencies evaluate their clients on six values.

‘The clients who score highest provide clarity on briefs, approval processes, strategic direction, objectives and direction. Their capabilities are outstanding in terms of experience and professionalism; they exhibit strong knowledge of their business, market and competitors. They value their relationships in terms of trust, respect, cooperation, staff continuity and levels. They are disciplined with timelines, schedules, deadlines and strategic processes. They are supportive of quality in terms of creative output, strategic/media reco’s and the best use of agency skills and resources. Finally, they have initiative and are proactive, anticipate needs and consider the needs of others.

‘So, to get better work from your agency,’ Brendon continues, ‘choose an evaluation tool that goes beyond an annual one-way ‘dipstick’ measurement and focus instead on managing continuous improvement of the relationship and the work every six months. Look for these key features and benefits with your technique for evaluating your communications agencies:

▪ Joint or shared ownership of the process (and cost) for true collaboration and commitment;

▪ Involvement from all individuals who meaningfully interact in the relationship;

▪ Client and agency scoring their own and each others’ performance;

▪ Detailed gap analysis to identify the key issues;

▪ Benchmarking against norms by client category and region;

▪ Extensive verbatims to clarify the issues;

▪ Analysis and interpretation of results by independent experts with action plans and follow-up to ensure desired results are achieved.’

Powerful motivation for adopting these methods, says Brendon, lies in the fact that ‘It is no coincidence that in the UK, regular winners of the IPA Effectiveness Awards have all had long relationships with their agencies. This also holds true in Canada for multiple Cassie-winning clients like Kraft, Nestle, OLGC, Pfizer, Milk Quebec, Scotiabank, Telus, Toyota and Unilever.

‘Clients who shun the master/servant relationship and treat their agency as a long-term partner extract greater value and commitment. This proves the truth of one the oldest clichés in the agency business: Clients get the advertising they deserve. Or, to paraphrase Bill Clinton’s 1992 campaign: It’s the relationship, stupid.’