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A marriage made in measurement

CMOs need to work at their relationship with agencies and that means regular two-way evaluation. You have to put the effort in if you want partnerships to be long lasting and successful says Antonia Tullock, Junior Consultant at The Observatory International

Relationships matter in marketing and none more so than the relationship between advertiser and agency. Because if you can build a long-term relationship then you are more likely to create great communications that deliver great business results.

Making these relationships last, however, requires constant evaluation. They provide essential, regular pointers that stop minor problems escalating into major issues.

That’s because getting evaluation right makes it much easier to deal with all the other problems that can arise in what is often a complex relationship between advertiser and agency.

Ideally it should be based on eight clear principles:

  1. Regular – quarterly evaluation gives a true picture and allows problems to be picked up quickly, rather than being just a snapshot in time.
  2. Simple and quick – in a world where everything is needed ‘now’ and inboxes are overflowing, it is essential that evaluation is easy and fast.
  3. Two-way – client on agency and agency on client evaluation ensures true insights are gained, as well as instilling a sense of team in the relationship.
  4. Involve a range of people – everyone involved in the relationship should have an opportunity to give their views.
  5. Honest – evaluation must provide an environment where people feel comfortable to give their opinions. This may be achieved by using an intermediary and/or anonymous surveys.
  6. Assess everyone – as well as providing cross-roster agency comparisons as part of roster management, by monitoring all your agencies, overarching themes can be spotted and addressed be that skills you are missing internally or an issue with the roster.
  7. Benchmarked – assessing your results against industry benchmarks gives CMOs reassurance, as well as highlight areas for improvements.
  8. Followed up and shared – the results of the evaluation should be shared with key stakeholders both client side and at the agency – with clear actions highlighted. Feedback should be shared in a constructive and coherent manner.

We’ve been doing such best-practice evaluations for advertisers for the last decade and they typically identify three key areas of potential conflict; lack of understanding, strategic mismatches and poor briefing. There are solutions to all three, allowing both sides to focus on the aspect of the relationship that really matters: driving business success for the brand.

We typically find there is real respect between clients and agencies for one another’s talents and dedication. But what is often lacking though is an awareness, and appreciation for how the other works and the environment they are operating in.

The best evaluation scores are seen in relationships where client and agency staff spend time together – face to face. Spending time at each other’s office allows for more open communication and greater sharing of information. Ultimately this helps the agency build their knowledge of the brand and enables them to produce more effective work.

The second area of relationship tension is the need to recognise that creative strategy and business strategy are not distinct from one another, they are inherently linked.

Marketers need to trust their agencies, giving them real business problems rather than simply asking them to execute deliverables. A relationship based on trust and involving agencies in the brand’s day-to-day business is likely to deliver better communications and creative strategies.

The final area of tension and one that demonstrates why evaluations should be two-way, is the failure of many advertisers to master the art of briefing. This has been a problem for the last decade at least and it reduces an agency’s ability to respond with innovative creative ideas.

CMOs must work to ensure briefs are only issued to agencies once strategy has been defined, relevant information gathered, realistic timelines have been set and sign off has been given by management. Training can help marketers improve in this area and getting it right enables client-agency tensions to be reduced significantly, paving the way for fruitful, cost-effective and successful partnerships.

Although much of this will be common sense to experienced agency and marketing practitioners, the fact is that meaningful evaluations highlight the specific issues that impact on each individual relationship.

The best advertiser and agency partnerships share many common characteristics and include a transparency/honesty, joint ownership, shared goals and appreciation, all factors that can be enhanced by regular evaluations.

This analysis is backed up by research from McKinsey which was unveiled at the Cannes Lions in 2017. Its look at Cannes Lions winners over 16 years found that companies with a high creativity score were not only significantly more likely to view marketing as an investment rather than an expense but they also raised the issue of creativity and innovation in the C-Suite.

Clients and agencies are very different beasts so making time to understand the other side is the best way to build a lasting relationship. Those that can forge a strong bond will find that it plays real dividends.

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