MEDIA: FORUM; Do clients resent the lack of senior staff contact?

By RICHARD COOK,, Friday, 30 August 1996 12:00AM

Optimedia’s managing director, Simon Mathews, made a bid to stand out from the pack last week by allocating more senior staff to work on clients’ business day-to-day. Clients, he says, are being short-changed by the majority of agencies, who leave junior staff to do most of the work. Richard Cook investigates

Optimedia’s managing director, Simon Mathews, made a bid to stand out

from the pack last week by allocating more senior staff to work on

clients’ business day-to-day. Clients, he says, are being short-changed

by the majority of agencies, who leave junior staff to do most of the

work. Richard Cook investigates

When Optimedia parted company with four senior executives last week,

there were none of the customary apologies about the depth of the

recession, no fashionable rationalisation about changes throughout the

company. This move, we were led to believe by the recently appointed

managing director, Simon Mathews, was deliberately designed to

create a point of difference from other agencies. It was designed to

streamline management and bring the senior people into closer contact

with clients.

Clients were being fobbed-off with junior staff, according to Mathews,

and it was now time to deliver on the promises made by the heavyweight

pitch team, for whom actually winning the business all too often marks

the beginning of the end of their involvement.

Unfortunately, clients can certainly empathise with that situation, even

if it’s not their immediate experience, as John Blakemore, the UK

advertising director at SmithKline Beecham, explains: ‘I’m sure there

are a great many occasions when the client feels short-changed, where

the reality doesn’t live up to the expectations raised by the top-flight

pitch team. You hear about such cases with regularity. But, of course,

what no individual client ever really knows is whether this happens in

10 per cent or 90 per cent of cases.

‘The problem wouldn’t matter too much if there were uniform standards of

talent throughout an agency, but too often that is simply not the case.

You still hear instances of people finding out that the team working on

their account is simply not of the required calibre.’

Dominic Owens, Mercury’s marketing services manager, believes that

establishing good links with the senior agency staff who will look after

your business should play an important part in the whole pitch process.

And there are a number of commonsense pointers for clients to watch out

for. ‘When choosing an agency there is a delicate balance to be achieved

- you don’t want one with too many clients because then you fear that

you won’t get the attention of the most senior people. Yet, on the other

hand, you need a buying point of a certain size to be able to buy well,’

he explains.

‘I’ve always worked on accounts that require a great deal of media

planning. The big, centralised accounts for which the buying is

everything might not be too concerned about being attended to by

relatively junior people.

‘You can never have too senior a person on your business - providing

they still know their stuff and are not just a luncher - because you

need some perspective on your business, you need someone who can look at

an apparently new idea and say ‘no, that didn’t work when it was last

tried’. ’

For agencies, the problem is that the more successful they become the

more business they attract and the less likely it is that the people

attracting the business are able to deal with it personally. Agencies

such as PHD and Manning Gottlieb Media initially made a virtue of the

fact that partners would look after the business. The MGM partner, Nick

Manning, says: ‘Price is becoming less of a discriminating factor

between media agencies as the discounts secured by the bigger buying

points draw closer to each other.

‘The real edge now comes from the heightened visibility produced by the

intelligent use of a range of traditional and new media channels, the

way they’re used and how they combine to multiply each other.’

Achieving this effect is precisely where top talent makes a difference.

MGM can still offer a director working full-time on all accounts, but

concedes that the challenge is how to recruit successfully and manage


‘Crucially,’ Manning says, ‘we have set in motion a policy of recruiting

senior personnel as both generators of ideas and the people who carry

them through, while the direct involvement of the partners has also been

helped by out-sourcing our finance function.’

CIA Medianetwork’s managing director, Mike Tunnicliffe, agrees that this

problem is proving to be a major headache: ‘It’s an issue that seems to

come up more and more. And it’s not just a problem for companies as they

expand and take on more business. The good people in agencies, the ones

that are good with clients, often end up running the businesses and can

get bogged down in the day-to-day admin, rather than working with


‘All media companies should make sure that good senior people have

enough time to deal with clients. Here, me and my deputy, Marco Rimini,

have specific client responsibilities and both of us deal directly on

three or four key accounts. For our big clients we set up a strategic

team with three senior people who get involved at crucial times in the

client’s year.

‘You’ve got to do something like that. If you want to offer just a

buying service then you can have one or two top people skirt across all

the accounts, but today more and more clients just take buying as a

given and really want to know what else you can offer. And that means

the enhanced planning and account management skills that tend to be the

preserve of senior staff.’

According to John Hooper, the director general of the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers, whatever the answer it must ensure that

standards do not drop too alarmingly low down the management chain.

‘The moves at Optimedia are interesting and do look as though they were

brought about by client pressure. It does concern clients when they see

the senior management spending time on going out and grabbing new

business or dealing with the City. All advertisers, in an ideal world,

would like to deal just with the top players, but there simply aren’t

enough of them to go round.

‘If you’re a big player then you can demand top people for your account,

but if you’re a client spending pounds 1 million a year then your

bargaining power is reduced. What is the most important thing of all is

that agencies have really talented and well-trained people in junior

positions who can work on your business without a drop in standards.’

This article was first published on


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