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Client/Agency Relationships: Trends, Uses, Case Studies


It comes as no surprise that in today’s ever changing advertising industry that the role an agency plays in a Client’s business is ever changing as well.    In recent months, some of the longest standing Client/Agency relationships have fallen victim to these changes as we saw several accounts up for review.  After 31 years, Carmichael Lynch and Harley Davidson ended their relationship, Met Life decided it was time to end their 83 year run with Y&R and even the 100 year old relationship of McCann Erickson and Exxon Mobil was up for review.  And while certain historic relationships still remain intact they are not completely unaffected by these noticeable shifts in the industry.  For instance,  BBDO and GE are still partners after 91 years together, however, the relationship can no longer be considered exclusive.  As smaller companies continue to pop up, boasting knowledge and capabilities in the latest advertising trends and technologies, Clients are broadening their Agency rosters.

So what does this all mean?  First we should understand what exactly the Client/Agency relationship is.

Clients come to agencies because they want innovative ideas, thought leadership and most importantly, drive the bottom line.  They trust us to know our stuff; they value our expertise and our knowledge based on past experience that only we can provide.  In return, we as an Agency must become an extension of their brand.  Our success ultimately relies on the success of that of our Clients and so our efforts to impact their business have a direct impact on how we affect ours.

The term that is often lacking from those ill-fated Client/Agency relationships is that of “partner”.     We should always strive to be viewed as a Client’s “Agency partner” both to them and to any other Agencies they may work with.  As a trusted partner, it is not our job to simply tell them what they are doing is wrong and how to fix it, but to have a collaborative process to understand their logic and business needs so that we can explain why a certain strategy might not be the best approach or why a certain typeface won’t read well in a design.  In return, when a Client views us as their partner, they are more inclined to be honest and open about their business challenges and goals which only help us produce better results.  Our jobs, as Agencies is simple:  it’s to make our Clients look good.

So, why the notable love loss recently?

As mentioned previously, the new-era of advertising means a Client can have many Agencies working on one Brand at a time therefore diminishing the power one single Agency may have.  The shift in Client roles also may affect how long an account stays with their Agency.  Typical tenure periods for a CMO today is only under three years and many are determined to bring in new Agencies when they take their new found positions.

The best advice we can take from all of this is to get to know our Clients, know their Brands as if they were our own and continue to be collaborative with our Client in order to provide them with breakthrough ideas that will help propel their businesses further.



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