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What Clients Actually Want From Their Agency CEO Right Now

LeadershipAgency leadership is not simply about who gets the biggest office but about the reassurance they give to clients. Lucinda Peniston-Baines, co-founder and managing partner at The Observatory International, highlights eight important skills all advertisers now need in their agency’s chief executive.

Clients need strong business partners, with the resources and capabilities to help clients navigate this period of uncertainty and drive brand growth and business results. The essential ingredient to make this happen is strong agency leadership.

Agency leadership is about many things but for marketers it’s about demonstrating not only that the agency really cares about their business (and not just the fees) but also that they are continuing to put their best people on the account.

That translates to eight key asks from most advertisers and these apply across all agency types be it creative, media, digital or PR.

1. Clients want to see a sense of shared ownership of their business objectives and challenges. This isn’t just about a ‘financial’ bond created by a payment by results mechanism (though that’s an important element). There needs to be a genuine emotional tie to the business too. The client’s commercial and marketing objectives need to be a #1 priority for the agency and this needs to be apparent.

2. They want to see that agency leaders understand their challenges as clients. They need to know that the agency CEO and business director really understands what it’s like to be in the engine room of their company. Do they get the physical, logistical and financial challenges they face in getting products or services out of the door at the right price and on time? They need to be immersed partners not just suppliers.

3. Brands also want to see flexibility when business challenges require skills that the agency does not have. There should be a willingness to open-source new skills or genuinely collaborate with other external partners who do have them. Those who are part of a Holding Company or Network agency should be identifying and introducing other agencies or skill sets from within their Group. Others should be happy to bring in additional specialist strategic resource to help solve a particularly challenging problem.

4. They need evidence that the leadership team are proactive in ensuring that their team is chockful of the very best talent. Are they keeping that team fresh, well-motivated and performing at their peak? Ensuring that the client’s business is not a training ground for ambitious Account Execs but that team members are genuinely there to add value and make a difference. The agency team must genuinely want to work on the account and it is the client’s responsibility to make sure it is great business to work on too.

5. Your client wants to see that the agency leaders are sufficiently involved to be able to direct their teams to work together to develop implementable fast track solutions – working in an agile way to solve problems. This is seen as particularly important now given the continually evolving and unpredictable world.

6. International clients need agency leaders who make it easy for them to navigate the agency’s global teams when it comes to pushing best practice working and reducing competitiveness between disciplines. This leadership skill is seen as particularly vital for agency leaders who work within the very complex structures that define today’s holding companies.

7. All advertisers want good leaders who come to them with insights and information that they can’t get elsewhere. Advertisers want guidance and advice on emerging marketing trends and insight into how they could affect their business. At the start of the current global pandemic, strategic insight and scenario planning to help shape the client’s response would have been valuable, and, in more conventional times, they would want guidance on digital innovations and new channel choices to include in the marketing mix.

8. Finally, clients want to see a leader who can cope with a diversity of thought and perspectives. They want to see this in not just how the leadership team is put together but also in how the agency is run, to how the teams that work on their account are assembled. Great leaders ensure that the best talent finds satisfaction and fulfilment in their agency, which in turn will deliver brighter, smarter stable teams for clients.

There’s no denying that this is a tough set of challenges. And perhaps that’s why great agency leaders are rare. You can tell when someone has their finger on the pulse of all eight, however, because clients will tend to follow them from agency to agency as their career progresses.

The bottom line is that the agency leader that can deliver on all of these will find they have a great deal of loyalty among the marketers that they have worked with. They might be described as new business masters in the trade press but what they actually do is deliver what clients want.

The full article was first published by The Drum and can be found here.

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