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Client-Agency Relationships
Value Creation
or
Value Destruction?
Professor Tim Hughes
Dr Mario Vafeas
Research Method
 25 one-to-one interviews with clients, agency
management, and agency creatives (nine
case studies) in 2013-14
 Additional qualitative data from three
workshops in 2014
 Survey questionnaire (64 responses from
agencies) in 2014
Client
resources
Agency
resources
Interaction process
and
Resource integration
Creative
output
Relationship
climate
Co-creation
The Brief
Agencies say…
 Lack of focus
 Lack of information
 Lack of senior
manager sign-off
 Lack of time (and
money)
Clients say…
 Lack of interrogation
by agency
 Lack of alignment
 Agency cost
estimates unrealistic
The Brief
Agencies Say… Clients say…
It’s very rare we get a clear
brief. (Creative, case 1)
We’ve improved our processes
so things are better now than
they were. (Marketing
Manager, case 1)
The junior managers give you
changes they want made
before it goes up the ranks.
You make a whole set of
changes. Then you show it to
the senior stakeholders and
you find out it was off brief in
the first place.
(Account Director, case 3)
We need to put the energy
at the beginning to make
sure the brief is absolutely
right and that we’re clear
about what ‘good’ looks like.
(Marketing Director, case 3)
Agency Perceptions of Client Brief
Item Mean score
The brief contains sufficient information 1.92
The brief contains a clear focus 2.53
The brief provides sufficient time for the job 2.47
The brief provides sufficient budget for the job 2.66
5=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree
N=64
Knowledge and Skills
Agencies say about (some)
clients…
 Lack
understanding of
creative process
 Inability to evaluate
creative work
Clients say about (some)
agencies…
 Lack of
understanding of
client world
 Narrow creative
horizons
Knowledge and Skills
Agencies Say… Clients say…
No, I don’t always feel confident
if I’m perfectly honest and that’s
why I try to make it a
conversation with the agency so
I can get their opinions.
(Head of Marketing, case 6)
There’s a lot of people out
there who think they know
what they’re talking about but
don’t. Some can be open to
learning from their agencies,
but others are defensive and
purport to know when they
don’t. This can compromise
the quality of work.
(Managing Director, case 9)
Agency Perceptions of Client Skills
Item Mean score
Clients are good at writing a brief 2.23
Clients are good at articulating what they want 2.63
Clients are good at evaluating creative work 2.59
Clients understand the creative process 2.30
5=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree
N=64
Have you ever had training in judging
creative work?
1 2 3
0%
73%
27%
1. Yes a very full
training
2. I have had some
training
3. I have not had any
training
Has any of your agencies offered you
training in judging creative work?
1 2
91%
9%
1. Yes
2. No
Goals and Value Judgements
Agencies say about
clients…
 Risk-averse
Clients say about
agencies…
 Too safe
OR
 Radical just for the
sake of it
 Enhancing their
creative reputation
Goals and Value judgements
Agencies Say… Clients say…
They’re going to research the
hell out of this and we’ll be left
with a generic piece of work
(Creative Director, case 2)
We’re trying to sell a product;
they’re trying to promote their
artistic work (Marketing Director,
case 3)
You need more than one option
but I think the ‘safe, middle of the
road, and radical’ approach is the
agency covering all the options
(Head of Marketing, case 6)
Interaction
‘Battle’
8 mentions
‘Conflict’
8 mentions
‘Fight’
7 mentions
Interaction
Agencies say about
clients…
 Prescriptive
 Poor process
management
Clients say about
agencies…
 Inflexible and
stubborn
 Account managers
can impede
communication
Interaction
Agencies Say… Clients say…
They are stubborn and I have
to say to them ‘unless you shift
your position, we can’t go
forward’ And yet, despite this
happening year after year, they
continue to insist on doing
things their way and it delays
the process.
(Brand Manager, case 9)
They end up restricting
themselves and don’t get any
value out of using us. You end up
as the person moving the mouse
for them. (Creative, case 5)
Clients can sometimes say ‘I
don’t really like it, it’s not really
doing what I want it to do’ but
what they really want is help to
fine-tune their thinking rather
than us saying ‘OK you don’t
like that, we’ll change it’.
(Managing Director, case 9)
Relationship
Agencies say …
 Danger of
complacency
 Treated as a
supplier not a
partner
 Better output for
clients we like
Clients say …
 Threat of
opportunism
 Lack of
transparency
 Good relationship
helps the work
 Poor management
of staff turnover
Relationship
Agencies Say… Clients say…
If it doesn’t work out, you fire
them and get another one (Brand
Manager, client workshop)
You get used to working with
clients and give them what you
think they’re going to buy, but
you stop inspiring them. Then
they wake up one day and
realise they’re not getting the
creativity they want.
(Creative Director, case 7)
I’d like to think the relationship
helps the work. I’d like to think
they like working with me.
We’ve got to know each other
and it helps us get the best out
of a project.
(Brand Manager, case 8)
Top Ten Tips
for effective, efficient, and collaborative
client-agency relationships
Autonomy
- Trust the agency’s expertise
- But sometimes “just do it” is inevitable
10
Expectations
- Alignment around brief and output
- Stakeholder consensus and sign-off
- Transparency regarding costs
9
Communication
- Clients open to hearing the truth
(within reason!)
- Instigate formal two-way appraisals
(with fair and constructive feedback)
8
Commitment
- A degree of client commitment increases
agency motivation
- Negotiate space for risk-taking and proaction
7
Creatives
- More interaction between
client and creative
6
Manage staff turnover
- Handover
- Communication
- Senior manager involvement
- Knowledge management
5
Education
- Clients open to training
- Agencies can (and should) help
4
Mutual understanding
- Understand each other’s worlds
3
Industry standards
- Provide adequate resources for the task
- Agree service levels
- Free pitches devalue creativity
- Opportunism destroys trust
2
Nurture (not Nature)
- Joint responsibility to maintain and
develop relationship value
1
Can We Help You?
Can we help you?
 Neutral and objective
 Extensive experience in management roles
in clients and agencies
 Can work with agencies, clients or agencies
and their clients
 Share results of research
 Facilitate staff in coming up with ways to
improve the effectiveness of the
client/agency relationship
The process
1. Agree objectives
2. Run workshop to identify key issues, action
plans for improvement and ways to judge
implementation
3. Review implementation and adjust action
plans
4. Establish policies and processes to
maintain improvements.
Example
Area for
improvement
Issues identified in research & workshops Actions to address issues
Meeting
client
expectations
Importance of good communication and continually
managing client’s expectations
Importance of client induction and of client having
knowledge of agency processes
Is the client aware of timing required for different
types of jobs?
Is the client aware of the costing process?
At what stage does the client need to sign off costs?
Would additional training help the client in dealing
with the agency (for example in judging creative
work)?
Our motivation
 Demonstrate impact from our research
 Engagement with the marketing and creative
community
 Opportunity to develop the research further
(using anonymous examples)
 Good use of allocated research time (but not
unlimited!)

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Client Agency Relationships: Value Creation or Value Destruction?

  • 1. Client-Agency Relationships Value Creation or Value Destruction? Professor Tim Hughes Dr Mario Vafeas
  • 2. Research Method  25 one-to-one interviews with clients, agency management, and agency creatives (nine case studies) in 2013-14  Additional qualitative data from three workshops in 2014  Survey questionnaire (64 responses from agencies) in 2014
  • 4. The Brief Agencies say…  Lack of focus  Lack of information  Lack of senior manager sign-off  Lack of time (and money) Clients say…  Lack of interrogation by agency  Lack of alignment  Agency cost estimates unrealistic
  • 5. The Brief Agencies Say… Clients say… It’s very rare we get a clear brief. (Creative, case 1) We’ve improved our processes so things are better now than they were. (Marketing Manager, case 1) The junior managers give you changes they want made before it goes up the ranks. You make a whole set of changes. Then you show it to the senior stakeholders and you find out it was off brief in the first place. (Account Director, case 3) We need to put the energy at the beginning to make sure the brief is absolutely right and that we’re clear about what ‘good’ looks like. (Marketing Director, case 3)
  • 6. Agency Perceptions of Client Brief Item Mean score The brief contains sufficient information 1.92 The brief contains a clear focus 2.53 The brief provides sufficient time for the job 2.47 The brief provides sufficient budget for the job 2.66 5=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree N=64
  • 7. Knowledge and Skills Agencies say about (some) clients…  Lack understanding of creative process  Inability to evaluate creative work Clients say about (some) agencies…  Lack of understanding of client world  Narrow creative horizons
  • 8. Knowledge and Skills Agencies Say… Clients say… No, I don’t always feel confident if I’m perfectly honest and that’s why I try to make it a conversation with the agency so I can get their opinions. (Head of Marketing, case 6) There’s a lot of people out there who think they know what they’re talking about but don’t. Some can be open to learning from their agencies, but others are defensive and purport to know when they don’t. This can compromise the quality of work. (Managing Director, case 9)
  • 9. Agency Perceptions of Client Skills Item Mean score Clients are good at writing a brief 2.23 Clients are good at articulating what they want 2.63 Clients are good at evaluating creative work 2.59 Clients understand the creative process 2.30 5=strongly agree, 1=strongly disagree N=64
  • 10. Have you ever had training in judging creative work? 1 2 3 0% 73% 27% 1. Yes a very full training 2. I have had some training 3. I have not had any training
  • 11. Has any of your agencies offered you training in judging creative work? 1 2 91% 9% 1. Yes 2. No
  • 12. Goals and Value Judgements Agencies say about clients…  Risk-averse Clients say about agencies…  Too safe OR  Radical just for the sake of it  Enhancing their creative reputation
  • 13. Goals and Value judgements Agencies Say… Clients say… They’re going to research the hell out of this and we’ll be left with a generic piece of work (Creative Director, case 2) We’re trying to sell a product; they’re trying to promote their artistic work (Marketing Director, case 3) You need more than one option but I think the ‘safe, middle of the road, and radical’ approach is the agency covering all the options (Head of Marketing, case 6)
  • 15. Interaction Agencies say about clients…  Prescriptive  Poor process management Clients say about agencies…  Inflexible and stubborn  Account managers can impede communication
  • 16. Interaction Agencies Say… Clients say… They are stubborn and I have to say to them ‘unless you shift your position, we can’t go forward’ And yet, despite this happening year after year, they continue to insist on doing things their way and it delays the process. (Brand Manager, case 9) They end up restricting themselves and don’t get any value out of using us. You end up as the person moving the mouse for them. (Creative, case 5) Clients can sometimes say ‘I don’t really like it, it’s not really doing what I want it to do’ but what they really want is help to fine-tune their thinking rather than us saying ‘OK you don’t like that, we’ll change it’. (Managing Director, case 9)
  • 17. Relationship Agencies say …  Danger of complacency  Treated as a supplier not a partner  Better output for clients we like Clients say …  Threat of opportunism  Lack of transparency  Good relationship helps the work  Poor management of staff turnover
  • 18. Relationship Agencies Say… Clients say… If it doesn’t work out, you fire them and get another one (Brand Manager, client workshop) You get used to working with clients and give them what you think they’re going to buy, but you stop inspiring them. Then they wake up one day and realise they’re not getting the creativity they want. (Creative Director, case 7) I’d like to think the relationship helps the work. I’d like to think they like working with me. We’ve got to know each other and it helps us get the best out of a project. (Brand Manager, case 8)
  • 19. Top Ten Tips for effective, efficient, and collaborative client-agency relationships
  • 20. Autonomy - Trust the agency’s expertise - But sometimes “just do it” is inevitable 10
  • 21. Expectations - Alignment around brief and output - Stakeholder consensus and sign-off - Transparency regarding costs 9
  • 22. Communication - Clients open to hearing the truth (within reason!) - Instigate formal two-way appraisals (with fair and constructive feedback) 8
  • 23. Commitment - A degree of client commitment increases agency motivation - Negotiate space for risk-taking and proaction 7
  • 24. Creatives - More interaction between client and creative 6
  • 25. Manage staff turnover - Handover - Communication - Senior manager involvement - Knowledge management 5
  • 26. Education - Clients open to training - Agencies can (and should) help 4
  • 27. Mutual understanding - Understand each other’s worlds 3
  • 28. Industry standards - Provide adequate resources for the task - Agree service levels - Free pitches devalue creativity - Opportunism destroys trust 2
  • 29. Nurture (not Nature) - Joint responsibility to maintain and develop relationship value 1
  • 30. Can We Help You?
  • 31. Can we help you?  Neutral and objective  Extensive experience in management roles in clients and agencies  Can work with agencies, clients or agencies and their clients  Share results of research  Facilitate staff in coming up with ways to improve the effectiveness of the client/agency relationship
  • 32. The process 1. Agree objectives 2. Run workshop to identify key issues, action plans for improvement and ways to judge implementation 3. Review implementation and adjust action plans 4. Establish policies and processes to maintain improvements.
  • 33. Example Area for improvement Issues identified in research & workshops Actions to address issues Meeting client expectations Importance of good communication and continually managing client’s expectations Importance of client induction and of client having knowledge of agency processes Is the client aware of timing required for different types of jobs? Is the client aware of the costing process? At what stage does the client need to sign off costs? Would additional training help the client in dealing with the agency (for example in judging creative work)?
  • 34. Our motivation  Demonstrate impact from our research  Engagement with the marketing and creative community  Opportunity to develop the research further (using anonymous examples)  Good use of allocated research time (but not unlimited!)