Client-agency ties: In need of a shrink
It seems everything that could be said about the sorry state of client-agency relationships has been said - and seen. It is one of the most emotionally charged relationships in the business world today.
"Clients are a pain. Agencies suck. Clients don't respect. Agencies don't care. Clients don't pay. Agencies only want awards" - the list goes on.
The charges are traded like clay-court rallies, dulling your senses after a while and even though you are interested in the outcome, you wish things would move faster. There appears to be a lot of talk, but little action.
In that context, an article I chanced upon recently represented a tipping point to me and could herald an era of a new low.
Most of you would have read about Reckitt's "pay for the pitch" proposition for its media pitch review, which is a sad reflection of the commoditisation of the business, and the utter contempt with which some clients are starting to see agencies.
So have we reached the point of no return? Sadly, we may have.
Is there a way out? There is a sliver of hope, but fast actions are the key.
So who will do them? While it's a shared responsibility, the agencies have more to lose if the trend continues.
Life is indeed not fair. So it's only fair they take the lead in solving this mess. So what can agencies do?
1. Firstly, apply branding principles to their agency brand. Create a razor sharp value proposition. Define it. Believe it. Live it. Or else suffer commoditisation.
2. Truly invest in the client's business. No half measures. Be the best category experts, create real insights, invest in a long tail of renewable people resources - be indispensable.
3. Demonstrate why the work works. Create measurable value. Today we have a metrics overload, most of which is meaningless and has no bearing to business realities. Collaborate with academia - their world is rich with learnings and I am surprised no-one has really tapped them to make marketing more scientific and result-based.
Lest this sound one-sided, here is something clients can do.
1. Identify the right agency that has a cultural and conceptual fit (financials are important, but can come later) and empower them on the brand with time, access to information and ownership - we all keep coming back to the Apple/TBWA and Nike/W+K as examples of great client-agency partnerships. Learn and try to match them, if not emulate them.
2. Lead from the top and create a culture of partnership at every level internally so that the relationship can thrive even with its weakest links. Its not enough for the CMO to own the agencies. The CEO also has to be a willing partner.
I hate to be a pessimist but there is a very good chance that none of this will happen because it requires vision and a can-do spirit, a hard-to-find combination today when everything lasts a quarter and career spans are woefully shorter than the time needed to truly enhance brand equity.
If nothing happens and this piece is also consigned to the trash can, the following will surely happen in the not too distant future. Clients will be emboldened to ask creative agencies to pay for the work they release in return for the "privilege" to work on their brands.
Sounds incredible? Well, you ain't seen nothing yet.
Sandeep Khanna is LG's corporate marketing director for Asia. These are his personal views and not those of his organisation.
- LG Electronics
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