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What we can learn from the client and agency relationships of 2021

Antonia Tullock - Observatory International Antonia Tullock Consultant, London February 16, 2022

What did it take to successfully manage agency relationships in 2021?  Our analysis of client agency relationship performance reviews from the last year reveal key areas for mutual improvement.

Everyone hopes that 2022 will be the year that the economy starts to recover. But the brands that will benefit most, whatever happens, will be the one that has the best client agency partnership.

These relationships are vital to delivering growth and great work. Regular agency performance measurement details just where both brands and agencies can make their partnership as powerful as possible.

A new analysis of our agency performance reviews across a range of agency types for multiple clients carried out in 2021 has identified the most common areas for improvement.

This highlights areas of weakness on both sides and areas where improvements could make a real different to mutual success. Agency and advertiser can make a difference in 2022.

What brands want from their agencies:

  1. Excellent Account Management with responsive communication and strong leadership. Delivery that was quick, with deadlines met. Poor attention to details leaves clients frustrated.
  2. Clients want innovation from their agencies. Agencies that proactively raise digital first ideas, provide trend analysis and competitor insights are respected.
  3. To develop a deep understanding of the client’s business, their ways of working, products and services to enable strong and efficient relationships.
  4. Collaboration between agencies is highly valued by clients.
  5. To work with highly skilled, dedicated teams.

What agencies want from their clients:

  1. Positive client-agency collaboration and team spirit to elevates work. Agencies appreciate empathy and consideration from their clients.
  2. Defined scopes of work and roles and responsibilities adhered to by all stakeholders.
  3. Greater strategic involvement and insight into overarching business objectives (mid and long term).
  4. High quality, inspiring briefs which are structed and detailed with reasonable timelines
  5. Holistic, constructive, concise, respectful, and timely feedback which consolidates all stakeholder views.

 Of those requests, exceptional account management and the need for innovation from agencies were highlighted most frequently by clients – in over three quarters of our client on agency assessments.

Constructive and thoughtful collaboration was raised in every agency on client assessment that we conducted last year, demonstrating the level of importance for agencies. The value of quality briefing and feedback was also clear, with both topics raised in 75% of our agency on client assessments.

Dealing with these issues requires change on both sides.

Recommendations for action by brands:

  • Formalising agency scope of work to manage expectations on all sides
  • Clarity and respect for roles and responsibilities to help create healthy, positive working environments and therefore better outcomes
  • Aligning stakeholders and managing them in a clear feedback and evaluation process
  • Engaging agencies in future planning sessions and project wash up meetings to ensure focus on business objectives and ROI
  • Formalised structures and forums to help enable cross agency collaboration.
  • Investing in relationship management training, specifically around briefing and feedback,

Recommendations for action by agencies:

  • They need to ensure processes and ways of working are efficient, and detail is not missed, especially with hybrid working
  • Timely and effective onboarding of agency personnel, with strong communication maintained during periods of transition.

Recurring themes

Many of these issues are not new – we see them recurring time and again in client and agency performance reviews.  Enabling strong client and agency relationships is not easy, it requires commitment and investment, not a one-off initiative because teams change, and it takes time to form appropriate habits and behaviours and embed processes.

We know that during the pandemic some discretionary spend, such as training has been cut-back or limited because of the constraints of home working – this will have had an impact on embedding core skills – briefing for example.  Good briefing is absolutely key to ensuring great work delivered in a timely manner and within budgets – so it is no surprise that we see that cropping up in virtually every survey we run.

Clarity, understanding and empathy are important characteristics of any relationship, so it is no surprise that we see them regularly occurring in client and agency relationship surveys.

But managing performance is not discretionary, it’s an essential element in the constant battle to deliver appropriate and responsible marketing investment that delivers the maximum value to the company.

Companies that fail to monitor how they and their agency are doing are missing a major opportunity to get the very best out of their marketing organisation and its network of partners.

Click here to find out more about our Performance Measurement services or take a demonstration of our agency performance tracker proprietary tool.

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