Client/agency relationships

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by: Jennifer Rice

I read in the WSJ a couple days ago that agency/client relationships are becoming harder to sustain… not surprising as marketers are under increasing pressure to drive results.

In the good old days, clients were happy with increases on brand awareness and preference metrics. But given that the average tenure of CMOs at top-branded companies is only 23 months, there’s an intense pressure to demonstrate results – fast – and often at the expense of the brand and its customers. 

Many times, a new CMO sends the current advertising agency into an unproductive frenzy when they, upon joining a new company, immediately question their predecessor’s strategy. If the agency isn’t immediately fired (which often happens), an incredible amount of time is spent on the re-education of the new CMO — oftentimes as much as three months. Also, because advertising campaigns are tangible, new CMOs have a tendency to quickly look to the creative for a change in direction. Clearly, these knee-jerk course corrections, designed to demonstrate that the CMO is making an impact, are not only expensive propositions, but, more importantly, force the consumer to accept yet another brand positioning.

Ad agencies have to shift their thinking from pure creative to advertising that moves products. If agencies don’t have senior staff that can speak C-level lingo and understand how to tie creative execution to business results, we’ll see more and more of agency/client relationships go sour. On the other hand, clients often fallaciously think that advertising is (or could be) a magic bullet. They no longer have the patience to stick with a campaign (or an agency) for the long haul. And lastly, most aren’t empowered to make the kind of customer-experience decisions that would actually move the revenue needle. So they lump all these expectations onto their agencies and expect them to work a short-term miracle. Clients and agencies both can take steps towards improving their partnerships to be more win-win.

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