Editorial: Short-term relationships hurt long-term growth

ITV is reviewing its ad account after just two years with M&C Saatchi; easyJet is shifting its favour from Ogilvy and Publicis after 15 months; and Innocent is flirting with rival agencies without making it clear to its incumbent, Lowe, exactly what is happening to its two-year relationship.

These days, short-term relationships are not a rare enough beast. Although it would be easy to blame the clients for being fickle, in many cases, the agency is equally to blame, unable to deliver on the many promises blurted out in an anxious pitch situation, for instance.

But it doesn't really matter whose fault it is, the fact is that both agencies and clients are suffering from the proliferation of short-term relationships. For both sides, pitches can be costly and often exhausting processes. But worse than this, a brief relationship renders impossible a truly deep understanding of a brand's long-term strategy.

It is clear that much of the most effective work, composed of the best creative and strategic thinking money can buy, goes hand in hand with lengthy relationships. BMW at WCRS, Audi and Levi's at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, American Express at Ogilvy, Sainsbury's at Abbott Mead Vickers BBDO, to name some examples.

But with the positive results of sticking together so apparent, how is it that so many relationships break down so quickly? Some of the flightiness is attributable to the high turnover of staff at both the agencies and in the client community. Indeed, some research reveals that the average tenure of a marketing director is only 18 months. In addition, the invasion of procurement has resulted in pitches enabling marketers to drive their costs down.

But on the flipside, our feature on page 24 indicates that the quality of the agency staff is not what it used to be. "We've not hired an MBA in years," one network head laments. Another factor is that agencies, now so often publicly listed, have had ambitious new-business targets set in order to satisfy shareholders' demand for organic growth. While an agency's attention is focused on new business, who is looking after its existing clients?


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