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Clients get the work they deserve, or do they?


By Dani Gibson, Senior Writer

September 20, 2018 | 6 min read

At a time when every agency-client relationship is under increasing scrutiny, how do you forge a creative relationship? Or how do you foster a relationship that helps create work that pushes boundaries, develops long term brand value and also sells products along the way? River Island and its agency Studio Blvd talked at the Pitch Perfect conference about “being in the trenches together” and how they created the most recent campaign that dials up diversity in the 'Labels are for Clothes' campaign.

During a panel session, River Island customer director Josie Cartridge and Studio Blvd global chief strategy officer, Alistair Green talked about how this diverse and inclusive campaign came together and how their not so typical client/agency relationship was integral to that success. And what does a successful agency-client relationship look like?

It’s latest campaign launched earlier this week includes Paralympic athlete Jordan Luce and Kathleen Humberstone, a model with Down's Syndrome.

Are all creative briefs now about diversity and inclusivity?

Nike’s latest campaign featuring the former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been the source of much controversy, but anecdotal evidence suggests that brands are all considering jumping on the diversity and inclusion bandwagon.

Not the case for River Island, said Cartridge. She added that last summer she spoke with Green about her strong belief that there is a requirement for brands to connect with consumers in an emotional way that expresses what is connected with, what the values are. “Particularly within the fashion space, product and price is highly competitive and you see the consumer brand loyalty is at an all-time low,” she explained. “Whatever brand gets the right kind of product, right time, right price in front of the consumer wins the sale.

“Therefore, from a brand communications perspective, it's fundamental to still communicate the product, price but we felt that band communications also needed to have a more powerful emotional message that consumers would remember and were connecting.”

It was the first time a brief from River Island had the word emotion in it, according to Green. “This was a huge shift that we had thought about, but we weren't sure that River Island had. We went back to them to make sure they realised what this meant. That they are going to have to stand for something beyond fashion".

Once they got under the skin of their audience, really questioning the brands values and what the audience wanted, both client and agency came to the agreement on diversity and inclusivity, to challenge outdated labels and stereotypes that the River Island audience doesn't believe in any more.

Honesty between client and agency ‘not a luxury’

On the issue of agency-client relationship, Cartridge said: “Honesty and transparency to some might seem to be a bit of a luxury, especially when it comes to the larger agencies. But it really isn’t.

“Any agency, in my view, is an extension of my team. I'm hiring a skill set that I think is best held within a third party rather than me hiring directly and managing myself. There's an acknowledgement that I want some expertise and there is value in those expertise, otherwise I would do it myself. The key objective in my world is to deliver value for the business. If I'm not 100% clear that I'm getting that from my agency and that they understand the what and why of growing our business and how they support that, there's no point.”

To have such an honest relationship with the “big wigs” is next to impossible admitted Green, who has formerly worked at Grey London on global P&G business and also Mindshare. “I had foreign clients across continents. The days of agencies putting their creative directors in ivory towers and holding themselves above their clients is dying. The agencies who are doing that aren't doing so well anymore.”

Are you talking to me?

What does a good client-agency relationship look like? Is it all about producing the right brief or sharing ambitions?

For Cartridge, the brief is important and it’s the client’s responsibility to be very clear about what they want in a piece of work and what results they are expecting from it. Marketers also have to allow a creative and development process to play out. “It's having a way of working that is very flexible and allows creative conversation as you go through the development and asset creative process of a very clear brief,” she clarified.

For example, ‘Labels are for Clothes’ campaign was a change in approach for the brand but the business did eventually buy into the “most brave version” proposed by the agency.

She added: “That, I was very pleased about. However, I also knew there would be a lot of internal management that I would need to do. It's people and constant communication internally. Any client will know who their key stakeholders are internally and who they need to side with to make sure no one wobbles. It's part of it.”

As a planner, Green said he made sure that insights and research played a huge role in trying to pivot the business to start talking about diversity and inclusion – something it hadn’t considered before.

He concluded: “What has been nice to see is the impact it's had on the category and now in the UK you have seen fashion retailers saying something and standing for something in an ideological way. None of us ever thought that the campaign would latch on the way it did considering we're not massive media spenders.”

Cartridge and Green both appeared at Pitch Perfect 2018, an event which focuses on helping agencies win new business. Check out the website for more information.

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