Agencies : maintain your strategic seat at the client table

Posted by KImberly Armstrong on May 12, 2012 2:17:00 PM

Over the years in my career as a Marketer on the client side, I’ve worked with a good cross-section of ad agencies. And I love working with them. The creativity, fun, innovation and energy associated with the agency world are both infectious and inspiring. But admittedly, there have been times where I just wish they’d put my business hat on and see things through my reality.


Out of sheer curiosity (and an anticipated chuckle), I read an article based on a study from the ISBA on what clients really want from their agencies. How would this compare to my own experience? The study confirmed that only 36% of clients surveyed thought agencies delivered exceptional value for money, and only 31% of respondents seeing their agency as a full partner.

"There is a sense that ad agencies are losing their place at the top strategic table and are in danger of being seen as an executional resource only.”

In times when nobody can afford to lose business, strong relationships are important. And in order to retain your client's loyalty – you need to give them a reason to. You need to bring differentiated value to the table beyond the scope of the last brief. And to get that strategic seat at the table, you need to innovate for it.

Value for Money

Define “value”? With agencies busting their you-know-what, yet being marginalized by clients every day… what can they do to add more value? Of course in order to do that, they first need to understand what the client is really up against? Many marketers are facing internal political pressures, fighting for resources, struggling with the need to do more with less, and dealing with the unwavering need to justify their costs (including agency retainer fees). Some notable client quotes from the ISBA survey:

They need to spend more time understanding our challenges and goals.”

“I want to see agencies improve their awareness of the business context in which clients operate. They need to understand this before they start the creative process. Too many agencies come up with an advertising solution without contextualising it against the client's business objectives.”


One of the issues that seemed to elicit some of the most negative responses in the survey was teamwork. In the survey, 37% of clients disagreed or were neutral on whether agencies work well in a team.

"There's nothing that bugs a client more than turf wars between agencies. They just want them to work together and get on with it."

So What Can Agencies Do About It?

Some agencies are already earning their strategic set at the table by addressing these two key issues. I’d like to share an example with you. An international travel and hospitality business suffered a tragic and highly publicized disaster involving of their fleet. In efforts to recoup dollars, budgets were slashed, including media dollars… right before a campaign launch. The agency knew the net result wouldn’t have facilitated enough reach to meet the client’s objectives. Instead of making do with what they had, the agency reached out to us.

Working together, the client, agency and Active landed on a win-win solution. The Corporate Trade model was leveraged to unlock additional value to boost the media campaign budget and reach. Once the agency realized the multiplier affect trade had on their client’s advertising budgets, the cat was forever out of the bag. The result? A strengthened relationship between client and agency, and a new means for the agency to add value to their broadened client base.

A Note to Clients

The responsibility of a true value-added relationship isn’t entirely on your agency’s shoulders. If you want your agency to be a partner in business, treat them like it. Give them a challenge. Share with them something you're struggling with, or simply give them a problem statement and tell them you want them to break new ground—strategically, creatively, whatever. And see how they respond.

I’d love to hear your stories on how your agency or client adds innovative value to the relationship. Have you innovated to solve a bigger business problem through multi-agency teamwork? 


Topics: Corporate Trade Industry Report, Media & Marketing, Agency Perspective


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