It's a question of trust. Or is it?
A view from Ian Millner

It's a question of trust. Or is it?

The debate over trust and transparency in agencies matters, but there is a danger that we could end up throwing ourselves "under the bus".

Every week there is another call to arms, or a powerful client calling for change. 

And while the spotlight on transparency is a good thing needed to flush out bad behaviours and encourage more open discussions between clients and agencies, I’m concerned that it can also be used as a tool to drive a better deal / drive down costs / beat agencies with.  

It is impossible to argue against the idea that there aren’t good agencies and bad agencies and also good clients and bad clients.

Earlier this month, Iris put together a panel of experts for a debate, called A Question of Trust, and ask whether our industry can succeed without transparency. 

I believe it can, but only when there is deep trust between agency and client. 

As Dean Aragon, chief executive of Shell Brands, said at our debate: "Trust is earned, and transparency is an enabler of trust."

But while transparency isn’t the main concern affecting clients, it is there in the background, slowly eroding the foundations of our relationships.

It is clear that while this debate is growing in interest and intensity, it isn’t driving clients’ behaviours right now.

The same concerns dominate: performance, creativity, value…

That was clear from the panel that also featured Paul Bainsfair from the IPA, as well as representatives from BMB, the7stars, AAR, Aperto and Value Retail. 

Trust and transparency aren’t the same thing. In a highly charged, highly competitive, over-supplied and largely subjective industry like ours, we all need trust in order to have constructive influence with our clients.

Transparency, however, is a key part of the dialogue of earning and maintaining that trust…and we will all need to wake up to the fact that we have it within our gift to attach the right amount of reassurance and comfort to the discussion.

The only agencies that won’t be able to are the ones that probably have a few skeletons in their closets.    

But in the final analysis, the most important thing for clients is value.

If you are confident about the value you are creating for a client – whether it’s helping to innovate, or understanding customers better, or delivering sales or all of the above – you can be confident that you will be trusted to deliver more in the future. 

As the debate rolls on, the best we can do is to recognise that we all inhabit a fragile ecosystem.

Clients can and do fire agencies when they feel like they aren’t delivering value or they have lost faith in the relationship.

The market is, to a degree, free and open and self-regulating in the majority.

Clients and agencies always have a choice.  

But because we’re all facing a crisis of confidence at the moment – we’re not seeing that.  Which undermines the foundations of our industry.  

I just hope that the early movers on all sides of the debate are motivated by adding value in the long term and not exploitation in the short term.

Ian Millner is the global chief executive of Iris