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Want better business relationships? Get better at the day job

by Kim Walker

November 16, 2022

Whether marketers or agencies, the ability of team members to do their job is the most critical factor for creating successful client-agency relationships, and our data shows it’s growing as a priority.

Figures from Aprais’ global database of more than 25,000 client-agency evaluations over 20 years show that functional skill – a team’s ability to do the job – is the most important attribute for clients and agencies alike within top performing teams.

Communication was the only one of the seven behaviours Aprais studies to score higher than functional skill among lower performing agencies. The other behaviours are: Accountability; Challenge; Goals; Trust; and Resilience.

This means that agencies and clients have clear opportunities to improve their relationships by boosting their functional skills and that top-scoring teams are characterized by team members who have a thorough command of their day-job.

What do we mean by functional skill?

We can define functional skill as the effective application of knowledge and experience to achieve a professional result. This requires a combination of formal and informal study to keep professional knowledge up to date, and experience earned over time.

For clients, functional skill relies on having a thorough understanding of the principles of marketing, the brand and its competitors, and a good knowledge of how to work with agencies to use their capabilities to the full. In practical terms this could mean improving clarity of briefing, organizing and unifying work flows, and improving basic processes like financial management.

And for agencies, an up-to-date understanding of the scope they’re being paid to deliver and digital awareness regardless of service provided are vital.

Functional skill over time

By comparing data over the past 10 years, we can track how functional skill has changed relative both to other behaviors, and to overall relationship scores.

As the graph below shows, at the start of the decade functional skill had one of the lowest scores of all behaviors, at 74. But by 2021, this score had jumped 8%, to nearly 80.

This change reflects the growing appreciation and importance of teams’ functional skill.

Our data also shows that weaker scoring agencies have an opportunity to improve by 36 points, by boosting functional skill.

Given that clients are paying agencies for their skills against a particular scope, it’s not surprising therefore that for clients, this gap is slightly smaller at 31 points.

How to improve functional skills

For agencies:

1. Accumulate and apply learning from experience within, and beyond, a client’s category.

2. Show attention to detail from planning stage all the way through to execution.

3. Use research and understanding of consumer contact points when developing strategies.

4. Make sure recommendations are solid, thorough, factually supported and maintain brand integrity at all stages.

5. Never stop learning – stay up to date on all aspects of the profession, and digital as standard.

For clients:

1. Make sure briefs are clear, thorough, inspiring, timely and in keeping with brand strategy. Evaluate work against the brief.

2. Handle financial matters efficiently and accurately, and make sure agencies are paid on time.

3. Maintain high levels of professionalism and consistent application of agreed brand policies across the client team.

4. Actively educate agencies about the brand, business and organisational culture.

5. As per agencies, above, never stop learning.


Agency Business
client-agency evaluations
client-agency relationships
business relationships