Managing Your Agency Relationships in Challenging Times

As marketers, we are constantly striving to build high-performing client-agency relationships. A great example of a high-performing team is a Formula 1 pit crew. If you look at an aerial view of a pit crew as they work, you’ll see that they are all: 

  • Working towards the same goal 
  • Collaborating well but also doing their independent tasks 
  • Working with a high level of expertise and efficiency 
  • Working together in a non-hierarchical fashion 

We can think of the marketing lead as the Formula 1 driver and the agency team like the pit crew. They’re all working together with the common goal of getting the driver to run their best race. 

How do you know how your team is performing? How do you know what things in the client-agency team need to be adjusted?

Aprais offers database-driven, objective guidance for team performance and productivity. We  

work with some of the largest marketers and agencies globally, and over the past 20 years, we have formed 24,000 relationships across 92 countries and in 13 languages.  

Here’s what our data shows about what makes the most successful client-agency relationships.

Four Essential Truths

Over the past 20 years of data collection, we’ve established four key truths that appear to be universal over time. Here are four truths we have seen consistently in our data:

1. As clients get better, agencies get better too

Our data show a direct correlation and an upwards trend on both sides when clients and agencies evaluate each other. Stronger clients expect more from their agencies, and agencies step up accordingly. When clients and agencies monitor and manage their relationships, performance improves.

As clients get better, agencies get better

2. Better client-agency relationships deliver better work

We wanted to know whether successful marketing performance was directly linked to the quality of the client-agency relationships—and we saw a direct correlation.

We found that many of the 2019 Effie award winners had highly ranked relationships as measured by Aprais.

3. Objective, standardized evaluation improves client-agency relationships

“That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”—Karl Pearson. 

Evaluation can improve effectiveness

Our data shows that all client-agency relationships improve with repeated evaluations. Over four to five years, the client of agency scores improved 12%, and the agency scoring clients improved by 10%. We suggest doing evaluations every six months. Here, we see growth over time in the quality of relationships—poorly performing relationships show even more significant improvements with continuous evaluation. 

4. Clients that show financial empathy for their agency get better performance from them

As marketers, we’re under pressure to manage costs. Looking at agency fees and structure is one way to do that and focuses on the procurement-driven world. We have taken a look at the data and seen that clients who scored in the top 10 percent overall also scored higher on questions to do with financial empathy. Clients with high financial empathy score high on questions like, “I believe that my agency should be fairly compensated.”

What we see is the gap between clients who score in the lowest vs highest 10% in these measures—the highest score their agencies at 21% higher on quality and quantity of staff allocation. They measure their agencies as 16% better on the quality of their creative performance. As clients invest in the appropriate agency fees, agencies are staffing the clients’ business with quality resources.

What’s Changed in the Last 10 Years? 

When we look at data specifically from the US and Canada, we can see what agencies want from clients and visa versa.  

How priorities have changed over the past 10 years in Canada and the U.S.

Six key topics have consistently ranked the most important over the last two decades. An interesting change we’ve seen is the priority that the partners put on these various values.

What do agencies want from their clients? 

10 years ago, they ranked leadership as the number one thing they wanted from clients. That’s not surprising since clients bring the budgets and the marketing challenges to agencies to help solve.  But in 2020, agencies are looking for partnership and collaboration with their clients. 

What do clients want from agencies? 

10 years ago, the number one thing clients wanted was functional competence, or the agencies’ ability to do the job well. Now clients are prioritizing account management above all else. They look to the account management team to bring the best resources across the agency to solve the client’s problems. We also see that strategy/planning and analysis are a more important priority for clients.

Dramatic business changes in the last decade have altered what clients look for in agencies.  And more and more, agencies are seeking a collaborative relationship with their clients.  What is clear is that proactive management of the client-agency relationship is fundamental to a productive, successful partnership.  Are you looking for a new way to evaluate your client-agency relationship? Contact me for more information. 

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