Client and Agency relationships

The ANA teamed up with the Advertising Week group to put on a great panel discussion about client and agency relationships.

One thing that struck me right away was how many times agency people kept using the word “partner” to describe the relationship.  It was almost never used by the CMOs on the panel. “Clients more and more are buying projects, not relationships” said one agency executive.  In response, one CMO said, “We are looking for relationships but we do date on the side.”

From the client side the word that stuck out was “team”.  The CMOs spoke of their agencies as vital members of the marketing team, with enormously valuable contributions.

Clients need agencies.  They need them for many reasons.  But the role that agencies need to play is changing faster than the mindset of many traditional agencies and holding companies.   The irony is that agencies are valued by clients as agents of change.  But the most difficult change for agencies is often internal.

Another thing that struck me were the very different perspectives.  At times I got the impression that the agencies were having one conversation and the clients were having another conversation altogether.  Yes, the agency executives pointed to the rapid turnover in CMOs as a core problem.  On the other side, Roger Adams observed that agencies don’t see enough of the whole marketing picture.  It is up to the CMO to watch the priorities and know who to bring to the table at the right time because marketing has become so complex.

Even so, most marketers still don’t have it figured out.

Many of the panelists held up P&G  as a model for how to successfully bring together everyone at one table as part of one team.  The difficulty of the challenge was evident when at least 2 people mentioned that P&G “forced” their agencies to work together.  And it also required P&G to reinvent marketing within their own company.  Susan Giannino said, “It wouldn’t have worked if P&G didn’t make organizational, process and methodological changes.”  Which really does get to the heart of the matter.  Marketing needs to be reinvented.

The traditional brand positioning approaches have broken down.  The advertiser/agency model has broken down.  The textbooks are out of date.  What people learned 10 years ago is about 11 years out of date.  The agencies don’t have the resources to solve the complexity of the problem.   Most Business Schools are overlooking the extent of the problem and not developing new models or theories (Professor Gerry Wind of Wharton raised the alarm about this a year ago in an editorial he co-authored).

As one panelist said, this is perhaps the greatest, the most exciting time to be in marketing!

My perspective — the companies who are doing it successfully are essentially reinventing marketing by themselves.  In addition to P&G, I would add McDonald’s, Samsung, Coca-Cola and BMW.

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