What are today’s marketing directors looking for in a marketing partnership?

Great campaigns come from great client/agency relationships

APS Group recently published a whitepaper on new model client/agency relationships and always a sucker for any new agency model that might shed some light on how agencies may progress in the future the Recommended Agency Register’s head of consultancy services, Steve Antoniewicz, was keen to find out more.

So, Steve joined APS Group and their assembled brand guests for a roundtable discussion at famous celeb hangout spot The Chiltern Firehouse to hear more about their experiences and opinion in the area of client/agency relationships.

Among the group sharing their perspectives on agency partnerships were Ben Huntley, head to B2C marketing, Nuffield Health; Tanya Douwes, European sourcing manager at global food-retailer Ahold Delhaize and Jon Cano-Lopez, CEO at REaD Group.

We started at what is usually the beginning of any partnerships - the initial search for marketing services partners – and we asked clients when do they know that it is time to look for new agencies to support their brand? Huntley explains that for him, it’s always been simply when the time was right. “If we have new products or our needs change” but Huntley adds you need to be sensible with your timing. “It needs to be when you can afford to spend a proportionate amount of time on it, not when the business has other priorities” he says.

Tanya Douwes from retailer Ahold Delhaize (AD) explains that they are open to agencies approaching them with new concepts. “We will look at the ideas they propose and decide from there” she says. She explains that AD has one big lead strategic agency, but does use a bank of smaller agencies for more tactical work, the best of both worlds you could say.

But that approach is not without its challenges. It’s common for multiple agencies to work together to deliver multi-channel campaigns, but it’s how they interact which can have a big effect on the efficiency and success of the work. Huntley says their ‘lead’ agency, usually reacts well when working with other agencies, but can become annoyed if the core creative idea is borne elsewhere.

Can agencies with no formal business relationship and with their own objectives realistically work in tandem for the benefit of the client? Huntley feels this is a work in progress, but they are beginning to see some. “It’s something which used to cause arguments between agencies, but it is improving as it is becoming more normalised,” he says.

The topic moved on to outsourcing. What services should and shouldn’t clients outsource to agencies? All of the table were in agreement that social media should, if possible be managed in-house and everyone represented managed their platforms through internal teams. The group suggested that the immediacy of social and the speed of decision-making needed, meant that it should not be out-sourced.

Creative services on the other hand initially offered a more divided view. “All brands traditionally outsourced creative” says Douwes, “but many are now starting to bring creative in-house.” There are some pros and cons to that as she explains “In-house creative departments, while being cheaper, can also create unchallenging and insular ideas. I remember listening to an interview recently with one of my favourite artists, Lorde. One of her new songs on the Melodrama album was ‘dead in the water’ until she gained an external perspective from a producer.”

The recent car crash with Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad acts as a prime example of in-house ideas proving insular says Jon Cano-Lopez from REaD Group.

Huntley says that, in his experience, agencies don’t always provide the challenging ideas the business needs “sometimes they might just want to please the client and get paid. It’s easy for them to create something the client will buy and that doesn’t always challenge”. Ben explains that at Nuffield, he’s happy with the balance, he uses his internal teams for insights, and brings that knowledge together with his agency’s, maximising value for money as well as productivity.

So, after some debate the group agrees that when it comes to creative services you always need an external perspective.

The age-old debate of integrated agencies versus specialists is next up. Douwes feels it depends – “at Christmas when there is a lot of media output, it is easier and more convenient to have one big integrated idea from a single big network agency. But there’s always a role for specialists, especially for some of the more specialised digital services”. It’s clear that this particular debate shows no signs of being resolved in the near future. There are so many factors which impact the decision to work with an integrated or specialist agency, the two are not mutually exclusive.

As we know well at The Drum, despite the all-consuming nature of digital print it is far from a dead medium. So, how important are physical marketing channels for brands in today’s tech-obsessed society? It was agreed by all guests that print has more longevity and can be a more trusted medium in the eyes of many consumers. The younger generations who have grown up with digital may see print as old-fashioned, but Cano-Lopez suggests that to survive “Print still needs to personalise to the audience.”

No conversation about clients and agencies seems complete without some chat about pitching. “Some agencies don’t deliver what was asked for in the brief,” Douwes explains. “It is good if they want to challenge the direction, but unless that challenge is articulated clearly our stakeholders will just be surprised by an omission or have their expectations dashed.”

Another frustration seems to be when agencies suggest “the brief wasn’t clear” especially when ample time and access to individuals is provided prior to the pitch to question or dissect the brief.

Warming to the subject of frustrations, the group also shares what really grinds their gears when it comes to agency partnerships. Paid hours and retainers are up first.

“What are you paying for? And are you just filling hours for the sake of it?” says Cano-Lopez. Retainers are seen as ultimately pointless in a lot of cases. “Results-based pricing would be better, but can be hard to agree and to manage, maybe not workable for a lot of businesses but there has to be a better way forward,” he adds.

So, what does the future of this vital partnership look like? Change for clients and agencies is evident and seems constant. Our guests, foresee a shift back towards the full-service model of the past and perhaps an accelerated rate of acquisition in the agency space to acquire all the skills that clients need. This might also provide some much-needed rationalisation in the agency sector.

Supply and demand, or is it demand and supply? Only time will tell.

The Recommended Agency Register is global platform that takes the pain out of the agency search and selection process by publishing the ratings and recommendations of more than 56,000 clients to guide other clients towards great agency suppliers. Visit our platform today to get your agency Recommended or, if you are a client, you can rate the agencies you work with or find new partners.

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