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Is the client still king? More agencies are pushing back on client requests, finds WFA

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

December 1, 2022 | 5 min read

A new WFA study has found that almost 70% of agencies say they’re having franker conversations with clients, up 25% on two years ago.

A king on a chess board

A new WFA study found that just 13% of agencies agree ‘the client is king’ / Unsplash

According to the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) and Decideware’s report, marketing and ad agencies are pushing back against client requests more than they did before the pandemic.

68% of agencies surveyed say they’re comfortable telling clients that there are issues that require fixing on their end. When polled two years ago, just 45% of agencies backed that statement.

Just 13% of agencies said they agreed that “no matter the feedback, client is king and won’t change,” down from 38% in 2020. The findings suggest agencies are increasingly willing to take charge of a client relationship, rather than rush to meet every demand.

The WFA surveyed 49 clients and 33 agencies representing some $69bn in global ad spend. Laura Forcetti, director of global marketing sourcing services at the WFA, said: “Advertisers need to work harder to become the client of choice by actively nurturing agency relationships. Doing this means starting ‘at home’ and looking at their own performance before blaming their partners.”

The report also found a slight increase in qualitative performance being evaluated by clients, rather than just quantitative measures, from 54% in 2020 to 56%. Three out of four media agencies surveyed had deals that linked compensation and performance evaluations, though less than half of the agencies polled said they wanted payment to be linked to performance.

35% of digital and 43% of production agencies, however, reported a total lack of client feedback in most relationships, with media, creative and full-service agencies the most likely to receive regular evaluations. For agencies working with big companies that have multiple brand teams, being evaluated with different – sometimes conflicting – sets of performance indicators is typical; an insistence on using indicators meant for one kind of agency work on another, different type of agency also emerged as a major gripe.

More positively, the survey found more advertisers measuring the collaboration between their agencies – 53% now evaluate suppliers for their ability to work with other businesses.

However, the report concluded that current methods of measuring agency performance were not working for most agencies and clients. According to surveyed agencies, most clients don’t utilize ‘measurable or objective’ KPIs, but tend to track measures that don’t give a correct picture of their work.

“This report highlights the number one challenge faced by agencies is ‘conflicting needs and expectations across siloed client organization.’ Clients must get their houses in order, and performance reviews provide agencies with an opportunity to help them on that journey,” added Forcetti.

Ed McFadden, chief growth officer at Decideware, said: “It is gratifying to see the continued evolution of evaluations as part of a comprehensive agency management strategy. More opportunities for agencies and clients to have constructive conversations will result in better work, stronger partnerships and less agency churn. Cracking the code of defining the right KPIs for the specific relationship seems to be that next challenge.”

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