Client faith in media agencies in decline, ID Comms research finds

Those who spent the most time working with media agencies had lowest opinion of them.

ID Comms: clients considered media agencies commodity suppliers
ID Comms: clients considered media agencies commodity suppliers

Media agencies are viewed more negatively by advertisers than they were two years ago, with client-based media and marketing professionals more inclined to view agencies as commodity suppliers rather than strategic partners, according to research from ID Comms.

ID Comms's Global Media Thinking Survey – which quizzed 117 client-side marketing, media and procurement professionals, who collectively spend about $20bn on media globally every year – found that the more time in-house people spent with agencies, the lower their opinion. All major agency holding groups also participated in the study.

Overall, in-house media and marketing professionals respectively scored agencies' media thinking 2.68 and 2.49 out of five (with a score of one being "unacceptable", three "meeting expectations" and five "outstanding").

Agencies were rated below average by media professionals on key skills, including identifying relevant data-fuelled insight (2.45), giving unbiased and objective planning recommendations (2.35) and integrating owned, earned and paid media (2.12). In ID Comms' previous survey in 2017, these scores were 2.5, 2.5 and 2.31 respectively, marking a fall in client/agency relations since then.

Exacerbating the declining level of trust in their agency relationships is an apparent lack of confidence in their own abilities. All client-side practitioners rated themselves below satisfactory in almost all key areas of media management, scoring an average of 2.56, and were plagued by uncertainty around how to set key performance indicators for media (2.55).

The report suggests that the overall decline in confidence since the 2017 research has not been helped by an increasingly complex and opaque media landscape. Agencies' ability to provide neutral and objective planning recommendation scored 2.43 out of five – as clear an indicator as any of a lack of trust.

Where agencies were scored highest, there was nevertheless an underlying current of concern, with thought leadership scoring just below satisfactory (2.93).

However, the findings were not all doom-laden. According to the research, the attitudes of procurement professionals – often bemoaned by agencies for their obsessiveness over cost – towards media are improving. They were more likely than not to view media as an exciting opportunity and an investment for growth than two years ago and they also gave the highest average scores for media thinking from agencies (2.97 out of five, up from 2.77 in 2017).

Almost the entire industry (99%) agreed that taking a more strategic and thoughtful approach to media would deliver a strong marketing performance, compared with 96% of clients in 2017.

Paul Stringer, consultant at ID Comms, said: "At a time when the challenge of media has never been greater, it is disappointing to see that so many marketing and media professionals are struggling to implement media strategies or forge relationships that deliver long-term growth.

"What is positive is that we are seeing changing attitudes in procurement and we could be witnessing the emergence of a new kind of procurement leader, one for whom cost reduction is just one part of a larger set of objectives around driving innovation, ROI and business development."

The research was gleaned from respondents around the world, with 57% from Europe and 28% from North America, with the remainder from the Middle East, Africa, Asia-Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Latin America.