CLOSE-UP: PERSPECTIVE; Rapport between client and agency must be a priority

It’s interesting to see the Prudential finally coming clean this week, after stringing Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy along for so long (cf FirstDirect and the former Chiat Day), insisting it wasn’t reviewing when it was and, what’s more, accusing our good selves of being economical with the truth. It really makes you wonder about client relationships, though. Especially as the belated bout of honesty came in the week of the most depressing conversation I’ve had with an agency in a long time.

It’s interesting to see the Prudential finally coming clean this week,

after stringing Mustoe Merriman Herring Levy along for so long (cf

FirstDirect and the former Chiat Day), insisting it wasn’t reviewing

when it was and, what’s more, accusing our good selves of being

economical with the truth. It really makes you wonder about client

relationships, though. Especially as the belated bout of honesty came in

the week of the most depressing conversation I’ve had with an agency in

a long time.



For once, we’ll spare the names because this really is about what it

reveals. I called the creative director of one of the larger agencies in

town, hoping to chat to someone about how an ad was made for a piece in

one of the nationals. Pretty uncontroversial stuff, you’d think - unless

it was British Airways or Guinness, which it wasn’t. No brain surgery or

state secrets involved (although state secrets are usually easier to

obtain), just a word or two about the location, the tricks, the actors,

etc.



Result at the other end? Panic. A turbo-powered intake of breath and a

call back from the concerned account director. I’d have to go through

him first, then fax the client’s global headquarters for permission to

speak. True, the client has had a little bad press this year, but who

doesn’t over the course of 12 months? However, it appeared that a quick

chat about how the agency made its ad was a sackable offence.



That it should come to this, that agencies can’t even be seen to be

associated with their product. How did client-agency relationships ever

get so bad? What dastardly deeds did agencies inflict upon their clients

in the 70s and 80s to merit such revenge today?



To someone like me, who has only known the industry in recession, it

appears that many of the seeds of mistrust were sown in the area of

production remuneration. This week’s feature on cost controllers (page

38) highlights the fundamental schism between the two sides. Raoul

Pinnell, NatWest’s director of marketing, while stressing that the use

of cost consultants was not adversarial, said: ‘We all recognise that

there is the possibility of an inherent conflict of interests due to the

way agencies seek remuneration as a percentage of media or production

spend. Cost consultants help to balance the potential conflict.’



However, in truth, not all agencies do recognise this potential conflict

- one which seems obvious to anyone coming fresh to the business. Many

agencies still believe in the commission system, be it media- or

production-related or both. While it continues, so will the lingering

suspicion that an element of rip-off persists.



Usually the ‘things ain’t what they used to be’ line drives me to

despair, but in the area of trust it appears an incontrovertible truth.

Improving that relationship must be the ad industry’s greatest priority

in 1996.



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1 Why creative people have lost their way

What better way to kick off the inaugural issue of Campaign's monthly print offering than with another think piece on the current failings of our industry, written by an embittered, pretentious creative who misses "the way things used to be"...

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