SG agency heads on how agencies and marketers can create better working relationships

A recent research by World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found that poor processes, fewer face-to-face meetings, a lack of focus on how clients can improve and the dominance of "cost-only" KPIs mean that many agency performance evaluations are less effective than they should be. 

According to the study, agencies want more face to face and open discussions with clients about what can be done better once evaluations have occurred. They also want clients to think more carefully about the KPIs they use, and not rely on cost-only KPIs, KPIs which the agency has no control over (such as NPS or share price), or subjective KPIs such as enthusiasm. Additionally, agencies want clients to recognise and incentivise positive work. Respondents, however, accept that extra financial bonus may not be possible during this time. Some suggestions to incentivise include ideas such as investments in training and development, recognition across the company and investment in new opportunities.

Speaking to Marketing, agency heads dish out what marketers and agencies can do to foster better bonds and working relationship. These include transparency, clarity, shared goals, and an ongoing feedback loop between the two entities.

Jacqui Lim, group CEO, Havas Group Singapore  

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Clients and agencies all have varied working styles and cultures. 

The best sort of client and agency relationships are built on clarity, consistency, transparency and equity. 

And if these values guide the way agencies and clients work with one another, the outputs and outcomes are usually rewarding and the relationships will be an enduring one.

  • Clarity in setting business and agency KPIs.
  • Consistency in staying true to the strategy agreed upfront is critical to agency’s ability to make clients successful too. Change course only if there are strong business reasons to pivot and adapt our plans.
  • Transparency in what works and doesn't work for both sides. Be it people, expertise or process so that there is room for immediate recovery.
  • And finally, 'Equity'. Which is being fair in giving recognition and putting accountability on agency partners, while paying fair fees for the quality they expect.

Prantik Mazumdar, managing partner, Happy Marketer

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In my decade long experience in the industry, I have seen a mixed bag of client-side marketers and the successful ones do things differently with a positive, inclusive and collaborative mindset in that:

Mindset

They would think of the agency partners as an extended arm of their team; consider them to be on the same side and think of them as long term partners with whom they would share and discuss their business challenges transparently as opposed to running it like a transactional, vendor relationship. They would collectively draw out a thee to five year plan and roadmap with fair exit clauses and not look to change partners every six to 12 months based on procurement costs alone.

Alignment

They would discuss their quantitative and qualitative KPIs and budgets transparently and both parties would have regular discussions to set and manage expectations. This is an extremely critical step in the process but one that tends to get missed out on if there is not trust, transparency and if the relationship is driven purely on costs.

Celebration

Given that they thought of the agency partners as their extended teams, they would celebrate wins and reflect on failures together without finger-pointing. Collectively celebrating milestones together fosters a healthy bond and creates a culture for the joint teams to thrive.

Apart from managing the agency relationships better, it would serve the client-side marketers well if they could internally transform and elevate the role and impact of marketing by focusing on driving business results by thinking long term and investing in the right people, processes and marketing technology and then working closely with their agency partners to orchestrate these elements.

Avery Akkineni, head of VaynerMedia Singapore

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For a better agency-client relationship, a true spirit of partnership is essential. Shared goals, where agencies and clients work together towards common objectives, ensures mutual accountability (and less finger-pointing when things don't go according to plan).

Transparency is also critical - an ongoing feedback loop of what works, and what doesn't, instead of waiting to provide feedback through anonymised forms on an annual basis.

To achieve this level of transparency, clients and agencies must invest to build a strong foundation of trust and mutual respect.

This makes the work better, and also a lot more fun!

For many brands, there has been a gradual move to project-based work, away from retainers. Long term partnerships are critical to sustained great work, and great client-agency relationships. "Dating" your agencies is ultimately a very challenging long term strategy.


Fiona Bartholomeusz, managing director, formul8

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It’s rather logical. If you were to review an employee, you would judge that person not just on "just doing the job" but how that person overdelivered, how their attitude was, their responsiveness and whether they were a team player.

The reality however, is that some clients don’t see how some agencies go the extra mile and really over-deliver, and instead of being recognised and possibly rewarded for it, their attitude leans towards “be thankful you have the business.”

I think most agencies are grateful to have any work and the loyalty of longstanding clients especially during these challenging times, but I think having some KPIs pegged to more than just performance that may encompass a recognition of agency service standards, ownership of the account and accountability towards the business is a good thing to implement.

It’s also a plain acknowledgement that some agencies are simply that much better than others in dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism. While agencies have service-level agreements to meet, failing which there are always punitive measures, surely the opposite should also apply if the agency outperforms on other attributes that really make or break the success of the account, no?


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