For marketing agencies : Five truths about clients from a client

I was privileged to be invited to join a panel discussion at the recent "Brief Encounters" event hosted by The Drum.  

The topic was "The Truth about Clients from Clients" and I was on stage alongside senior marketers from Honda, Macmillan Cancer Support and New Look.

Lots of great questions from the audience and loads of consensus from us panellists on the whole client/agency dynamic. Here's my five takeaways from the discussions:

1. Chemistry trumps ideas

If we get on like a house on fire, we'll forgive a below par idea. As long as we see the potential, we know that we'll get to that killer concept. Late nights and last minute deadlines are always a reality, so a good working relationship is important. Conversely a great creative idea will never make up from knowing we wouldn't get on. 

2. Cheapest doesn't always win

It's a myth that marketers always work to lowest cost. Where it all goes wrong is not being transparent with budgets from the outset. Asking for a Ferrari solution with a Mini budget doesn't help anyone.

3. Clients run pitches to steal ideas

Sorry agency land, as much as we'd all love to be sitting in pitches all day being wooed by agencies we just don't have the time. In fact we'd rather do away with the pitch process and offer up a small scale protect to get the ball rolling.

4. Agencies rarely understand the client

Interesting one this. Agencies are really good at understanding the end consumer (i.e. the target of the campaign) but not the client themselves. Most have really no idea of what it's like to be a marketer, how we're objectivised and what our day-to-day pains are. And it's not sitting in meetings with creative agancies. That's about 5% of our job. Remember its not just about meeting the business needs, its also about solving the marketers need. So take some time to better understand us. Then again, the situation isn't helped by the "employment economics" which mean the move from agency to client is common, but the other way is rare. 

5. Clients do a bad job at helping agencies understand our business

On the client side we do a really, really bad job of helping with (4). Having a more strategic discussion and being open on goals and objectives would help. And cutting straight to the "just give me the cost" conversation doesn't help either.

Finally, I do think a lot of these issues will diminish as the relationship between agency and client moves from being a transactional one to a strategic one. The trend for clients is definitely to in-source more and more traditional agency tasks such as creative studio and media buying, and this will require clients to need even more strategy counsel from their agency parties.

And to help, one final recommendation to any agency out there : get yourself an advisory board of senior marketers and get under the skin of what makes marketers tick. It will be the most valuable piece of consumer research you've conducted this year.

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