Explore our archive of the best creative works

Explore our new sections and topics

Moving toward a sustainable future: The innovation and transformation of the food industry

Kees Kruythoff

chairman and chief executive officer

Sir Martin Sorrell

founder & executive chairman

The 18 month itch: Why are so many agencies struggling to hold onto clients after the initial thrill has gone?

Design companies and creative-led agencies have recently been complaining they can’t seem to hang on to a client once the initial thrill has gone, more than a year feels like a lifetime, so what’s going on?

The relationship creative agencies have with their clients is rarely discussed in public, but a strong relationship helps the two spend more time together to create work. And really great work takes time.

Creative agencies are traditionally made up of creative people whose ideas are valued. These people are seen as worth paying for and therefore creatives often care enormously about what people think about them. Possibly a bit too much and particularly their peers; this extends to the way they behave with clients.

They present work that will make the agency look good, but not necessarily the client paying for it. Too many creative-led companies present work that will help them win awards and sound good in their pub-banter, rather than presenting work that actually solves the problem facing the brand.

Curiously, this flagrant flying in the face of a more professionally correct behaviour often goes on for quite some time, making the agency think all is rosy. The lack of criticism from the other side of the coin actually fuels the agency’s misguided thinking and the reason the madness is enabled to continue is simple.

The commissioner of the work is busy working on all facets of the brand’s challenges. With all the hard deadlines and unflinching facts surrounding the running of an organisation the colour of the logo or the composition of the website may not be their first priority. So rather than enter into a spicy debate, they’d rather just let it go this time.

But this agency obsession with showing off in the playground affects things. Every time the agency ignores the real issue and tries to sell in yet another wacky layout or overly purist system they rack up another little shot of hate behind the bar of the client and it festers. It multiplies and spreads. And when the bar is overflowing with it - a pitch is called.

The horror of a pitch is generally avoided at all costs, but generally happens every 18 months after someone either does a great job and gets promoted or poached – or makes an awful smell and needs disposed of.

It’s hard to do something lasting and significant in a year and a half. Yes, you can brief, develop, create and begin to roll out a new visual brand identity in that time. But it really doesn’t go beyond badging. To get the most out of a rebrand or launch you need double that time. But so often, the person who’s been driving it client-side is off to pastures new after that first burst. The 18 month itch is in, and they are out.

Ultimately — it’s a trust thing, once that’s gone the relationship is pretty much sunk. Whatever professional gloss you put on the relationship in commercial creativity—it is essentially a marriage.

Agency and client need each other to procreate and then bring up the offspring. But, as in life, it’s easy to take each other for granted, to get selfish and to seek self-gratification over the bigger task of pushing through tough challenges together.

If you actually care, however, you have the advantage over those who roll out the same proposal every time with a wheeze and shudder through their motions. And if both of you care, for each other — yes for each other— then things look good for your future.

Simon Manchipp is co-founder and executive creative director at SomeOne. He is also an honorary professor of design at The Cass School of Art, London. You can follow him on Twitter @manchipp.