PERSPECTIVE: Agencies can win back their role as advisers to clients

As I write, they are all over the chief executives of the top-spending advertisers in the world. As you read, they may be whispering sweet nothings about distribution, IT or - God forbid - advertising to the chairman of your biggest spending client. And yet while agencies seem very good at banging on about the threat of management consultants and the halcyon days when they were viewed as clients’ marketing partners, have they really tried to change how clients perceive them?

As I write, they are all over the chief executives of the

top-spending advertisers in the world. As you read, they may be

whispering sweet nothings about distribution, IT or - God forbid -

advertising to the chairman of your biggest spending client. And yet

while agencies seem very good at banging on about the threat of

management consultants and the halcyon days when they were viewed as

clients’ marketing partners, have they really tried to change how

clients perceive them?



It’s not as easy as it sounds, of course. Hard as it is to generate much

sympathy for its highly paid and slightly misunderstood executives, it

continues to be one of the fundamental truths about the advertising

business that if an agency’s champions in a company lose out or move on,

the agency looks distinctly vulnerable. Review after review happens for

that reason alone.



Consultancies, meanwhile, have been much better at developing a strategy

to take advantage of their own uniqueness. At their best they manage to

act as leaders in guiding clients’ strategic planning - and charge

accordingly.



So how can agencies convince clients that they are professionals who can

effectively combine business analysis with creativity fostered by

intuition and inspiration? How can agencies - the traditional ones, that

is - stop themselves sounding distinctly self-serving (e.g ’the only way

we can make your brand famous is via a pounds 20 million national TV and

poster campaign’) next to the MBA-toting sophisticates of the management

consultancies or the nimble Added Value Companies of the world?



The subject is very timely. As many companies have reduced their

marketing and strategic development capabilities, there has never been a

better time for agencies to rediscover their status as advisers to the

top management of these businesses. But how? It’s a sad truth that

clients simply won’t trust agencies to offer impartial advice unless it

comes from a part of the agency that sees itself as much more than just

a producer of ads.



Hence agencies must either hire experienced consultants; launch a

consultancy of their own such as @JWT or HHCL’s Lury Price Associates;

or, like WPP, Y&R and Interpublic, they may even buy outside

consultancies (and, you might suggest, risk further denigrating the

contribution of their ad agencies).



If transforming agencies back into clients’ marketing partners seems

overly ambitious, consider how the accountancy firms have reinvented

themselves in the last decade. One minute they were the grey-suited

bores of Monty Python fame, the next they were making more revenue from

consulting than from offering auditing services or tax advice. Will the

advertising industry ever manage to effect such change?



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