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Survey reveals new expectations from client-agency relationships - are you meeting them?



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January 12, 2023 | 4 min read

New ways of working are forging changes in client-agency relationships - and in the way they are managed

The pandemic encouraged extraordinary examples of urgent, purpose-driven, remote teamwork. Instinctively we know that there are now new expectations of client-agency relationships. Changes that are shaping both corporate decision-making and individual priorities.

To understand these changes, their impact on client-agency relationships and the management of those relationships, The Internationalist conducted research among its marketer and marketing procurement audience about the current state of client-agency relationship management.

Major challenges for marketers and agencies

While answers about numerous evaluation specifics provided a range of useful insights, the greatest challenges cited in managing relationships were of a broader nature — from driving transformation throughout an organisation to the constant demands of a faster-paced world, to staff retention and keeping up with changing customer expectations.

As seen from the chart, driving transformation throughout the organization was considered the biggest challenge facing clients and agencies today.

According to Deborah Malone, Founder of The Internationalist: 'Among the survey respondents, none checked that they collaborate with the IT department. This may speak to the siloed nature of organizations.'

Regardless, it would seem a major impediment to driving transformation through the organization.

Managing team performance

We know from analysis of the 25,000 evaluations in the Aprais database, that stronger relationships build stronger business. The question is with the plethora of challenges facing marketers and agencies listed above, how can leaders optimize their inter-team performance? What do leaders need from their evaluation methods to maximize their effect?

The need for action

Evident from the chart above, evaluations and performance measurement are a means to an end. Without clear and deliberate action planning the effort is futile.

Teams invest precious time and care responding to evaluations. All too often, those investments underperform. According to this article in Harvard Business Review, the reasons are simple and obvious: 'The true purpose of better feedback is not to improve receptivity or enhance understanding but to effect measurable change. Feedback that doesn’t lead to better outcomes fails.'

Good questions, the right people

Also clear from the research is that, as with any survey, defining evaluation questions and parameters (53%) is critical. Asking the poorly written, confused questions or questions irrelevant to the team scope will lead to project skepticism and survey fatigue.

Frequency of evaluations

24% of respondents to The Internationalist survey stated they perform bi-annual evaluations.

At Aprais, we have statistically reliable evidence that most relationships improve when evaluated every 6 months.

We argue that greater frequency does not allow sufficient time for corrective action between evaluations. There is also the risk of survey fatigue. Annual reviews on the other hand, risk the danger that problems may have been allowed to fester to the point of no return. There are also cases where annual reviews have been ‘weaponized’ to coincide with contract renewals or fee negotiations.

Course correcting via bi-annual evaluations means both parties have an opportunity to improve behaviors before problems become irretrievable.

As assignments become more project-based, it is not surprising to see that 24% perform evaluations ‘after the completion of every project’.

Evaluating the in-house agency

A somewhat worrying finding from the survey was that 34% of respondents who perform evaluations admit to not evaluating their in-house agency in the same manner as they do with their external agencies. While we fully appreciate the delicacy of evaluating an internal versus and external team, this is no reason to apply different evaluation protocols.

Key take-outs

  • Driving transformation throughout the organisation was considered the biggest challenge facing clients and agencies today

  • Evaluations must include firm action plans

  • Asking the right questions, in the right way to the right people is critical for maximum compliance and minimal fatigue
  • Evaluations should be conducted bi-annually
  • In-house agencies should be evaluated in the same way as external relationships.


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