Close-Up: Live Issue - Which match-making model is best?

Who should pay the bulk of funding for intermediaries - agencies or clients, Claire Billings asks.

JWT's decision to end its subscription to the AAR (Campaign, 9 September) has thrown the spotlight on to the funding models of the various agency/client match-makers and the way that they are funded.

Some within the industry believe that JWT has exposed a fundamental flaw in the AAR's funding model - the organisation charges each agency up to £14,000 a year to use its services, while clients pay a mere £500 in comparison.

They argue that cheap access to agencies not only presents agencies as cheap, but also attracts time-wasting clients.

The other side of the argument is that JWT is potentially cutting itself off from domestic new-business opportunities. JWT is the second-largest ad agency in the UK, and is winning business from global clients such as Vodafone and Samsung, but can it really afford to exclude itself from pitches for the likes of Argos, BSkyB, Pizza Hut and KFC?

Regardless of the speculation, JWT's move comes at a time when competition in the agency intermediary market is intense.

The AAR's biggest rival in recent times has been The Haystack Group, which has handled a number of high-profile contests over the past couple of years, including Sainsbury's and Direct Line.

Haystack is free for agencies to use, unless they opt to pay a charge to appear on its website. It has been praised in the past for collaborating with agencies after a pitch has concluded, to help them to improve their performance and succeed in subsequent pitches.

Agency Insight and Agency Assessments International have another funding model - both are wholly funded by clients and are free to agencies. Agency Insight works on long-term partnerships with clients, providing advice on existing agency relationships as well as handling pitches, while AAI's clients have more of an international or European focus.

One school of thought is that the wholly client-funded intermediaries can be more impartial, because it is clear that they are working for the client rather than the agency.

That said, after 30 years in business, the AAR is still proving a popular matchmaker for many clients. According to one agency marketing director, the AAR's secret weapon is its intimate knowledge of agencies and the time its founder, Martin Jones, spends with clients discussing, in detail, the merits and suitability of each longlisted agency.

This knowledge is something few in the industry have. And, on the subject of ongoing support and feedback to clients, many say that while this was lacking in the past, this has since been addressed. The AAR's higher profile this year has been testament to this.

Its other advantage is its specialist knowledge of a broad range of disciplines, with dedicated teams working on direct marketing, digital, media and customer publishing - increasingly important areas for clients.

So, is there really an ideal model for a matchmaker? Probably not - their different structures reflect the varying needs and budgets of clients.

But with expertise in different disciplines becoming a greater priority for clients, it is this along with impartiality rather than remuneration practice that is likely to dominate the selection process for some time to come.

AGENCY MD - Sarah Gold, managing director, Clemmow Hornby Inge

"The market place has obviously got a lot more competitive which is not only good for clients but good for agencies too because it means the intermediaries have had to sharpen up their offering.

"Any market benefits from different approaches, in this case client and agency funded models. If you want to be a big domestic player you have to be getting on the best domestic pitches. So if you want to be on the list for multi million pound clients like Argos or Sainsbury's you just can't afford to exclude yourself from either model because clients aren't."

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CLIENT - Neil Simpson, global marketing communications director, Vodafone

"It's great that clients have access to a variety of options in the paid-for-by-clients and paid-for-by-agency models, but whichever model you choose you've got to believe you're getting true impartiality.

"With either model, they have to consider what the appropriate list for my brand or business is and then make that selection. But they also have to get under the skin of the brand during that process.

"We've moved beyond just getting the right names on the list. We also need to understand the people we're faced with: their culture, the working relationship. The real test is six months in, not the glory moment of 'you've got the business, guys'."

NEW-BUSINESS CHIEF - Peter Cowie, business development director, JWT

"There is, and always will be, a definite role for pitch consultants, but they must offer return on investment for both clients and agencies.

"The most helpful operations understand the clients' business and have an insight into how to create the most appropriate relationship. They ensure a thorough brief, allow sufficient time for the pitch process, ensure a level playing field and provide quality feedback.

"The benefit is that you end up with the basis for a sound relationship that has more chance of working in the long term."

CLIENT - Kate Harrison, director of unsecured lending, Sainsbury's Bank

"Intermediaries should be paid for by the clients, then they can be independent of agencies.

"With consultants that work on a pitch-by-pitch basis, there needs to be the right conditions and chemistry. First, the client needs to write a clear brief. Second, the intermediary needs good insight and judgment to meet the needs of that brief. Finally, the relationship between clients, the intermediary and the agencies needs to be based on trust. This means once the pitch process has been agreed by all, the goalposts shouldn't be moved.

"If there's a shift of agency roster required or a need for agency management expertise, I think an intermediary can fill this space for a client."