Earlier this year, Campaign teamed up with Worldwide Partners (WPI) – a global network of over 70 independent agencies – to survey more than 600 brand marketers and agency leaders around the world.
In June, we took the results to Cannes and hosted the Marketer’s Manifesto Summit, where independent agencies and brand marketers debated the findings, and presented a series of pledges across pitching, communications, delivery and output, value and cost, and ethics. From there, we presented five areas to improve the relationship.
Now, we’ve asked five stakeholders from brands and agencies who were in the room at Cannes for their key takeaways, and how the exercise has made them positively rethink the relationship.
How has the client-agency relationship changed over the last few years?
Visha Kudhail, director of business marketing, EMEA, at Pinterest: “In the midst of COVID, business models at agencies drastically shifted overnight. There were far fewer client and agency interactions happening, with little or no chemistry sessions or meet-ups occurring in real life. I think the strength of relationships were really tested during this time, and even after.”
Zaid Al-Zaidy, group CEO at The Beyond Collective: “The proliferation in media over the last five years has been matched with the proliferation of the agency and client skillsets needed to deliver growth in this environment. This makes it harder for clients to orchestrate efforts and to lead an inter-agency team at a time when brilliant integrated thinking and execution is needed more than ever.”
John Keane, CEO at Ardmore: “Clients no longer rely exclusively upon their agency of record for creative/strategic direction on all comms. Rather, to a varying degree, they now blend a variety of AOR, specialist social digital, and in-house resources. This has undoubtedly weakened the relationship and indeed the trust which is so vital to the relationship, and to the creation of great work.”
What one key factor can help to improve the relationship?
Mikael Rubinsson, CEO at Blomquist: “The shared interest of the consumer or the end-user. It’s very promising that both agencies and clients share a profound interest in who they are talking to and what their needs are, which opens up creative opportunities. I think both sides will find a position that gets the best out of them, and benefits the user.”
Al-Zaidy: “Keep aligning around the basics: who is the core growth audience and what do they really care about, what role does the brand serve in their lives, what does the audience experience journey look like?”
Keane: “Client trust in our strategic excellence. Agencies need to regain their position as trusted advisers on behavioural trends, on what might happen next, and on the power of accurately delivered creativity, to positively affect that outcome.”
Henry Chilcott, CMO at Formula E: “Making sure we focus our agency teams on the areas of the business where they’ll deliver the greatest impact.”
What were your main takeaways from the Marketer’s Manifesto?
Chilcott: “It was reassuring to hear consistent themes coming through as well as a shared commitment to be better on both sides.”
Kudhail: It felt clear from the results that agencies and clients want the same thing: deliver great ideas with a proven effectiveness track record. But what was surprising was seeing some of the results suggesting clear misalignment in the areas to get there. In some cases, there were clear call-outs about clients being oversold to and under-delivered by agencies as well as an appetite for the agency side just to win awards. No agency leader would want that for their business or be seen to be representing that. But data tells us what we often don’t want to know, so I hope the spirit of what both parties want to achieve can be found.”
Al-Zaidy: “The best agency-client relationships are founded on mutual respect, a deep understanding of each other’s business, and driven by a passion for the brand and its success.”
Rubinsson: “I thought that there would be much more of a disagreement between how clients and agencies see the relationship. We were much more aligned in the discussions. The pledges also cover a wider area of topics than I expected, which point out how complex and nuanced the relationships actually are.”
What long-term impact can a manifesto have on the relationship?
Chilcott: “Long-term impact depends on long-term conversation. We need to consistently get the right people around the table and coalesce these discussions into meaningful actions.”
Keane: “It is a hugely powerful reminder of the potency of the partnership between client and agency when goals, objectives, and outcomes have to be clarified, then agreed upon and, importantly, committed to. Getting it right will be to our mutual benefit.”
Kudhail: “I believe in strong alignment on the shared goals between client and agency from the get-go. Ultimately, we all have the same mission: to create great work that is truly inspiring and effective. If that shared mission is built collaboratively on a solid foundation, then there is less room for confusion, but more agreement in the areas to challenge and fix.”
Has the exercise changed the way you view the relationship?
Rubinsson: “We are taking actions on how to work with one of the pledges: ‘Collapse the space between the dream and the reality’. That’s a fantastic subject to work around together with clients.”
Al-Zaidy: “It’s been a great reminder that, as in our private lives, agency-client relationships must never be taken for granted. They need nurturing and growing.”
Chilcott: “As we move through the planning cycle for the year ahead we’re putting greater focus on getting the balance right in terms of expectations against budgets; delivering the most impactful work, while helping make the account profitable for our agencies.”
Keane: “It has renewed our vigour and refocused our intention to create the most positive and mutually beneficial relationship possible.”
Kudhail: “We can learn so much from just listening to other perspectives. Agency partners provided an insiders’ view of how they approach problem-solving, which is so often behind the curtain of what the client doesn’t see. In one instance, they spoke passionately about empowering account management teams more; being on the other side it was unfamiliar territory for me.” ”
Client-agency harmony, where both sides are striving for the same goals, provides the platform for better creative and improved returns. After all, as Kudhail says, “Ultimately, we all have the same mission: to create great work that is truly inspiring and effective.”