Meeting marketers' needs

Last week, Campaign asked clients what they expected from their agencies with not-unexpected results. Anne Cassidy gives agencies a chance to respond and reveals that, as in life, client-agency relationships require give and take.

- Mark Cridge, Global managing director, Isobar

The desire for integration, collaboration both with the client and fellow agencies, all wrapped up in a neat desire for a sense of partnership - the feeling that we're all in this together. All highly commendable themes to tackle. So what does it take to deliver against this list?

First, Ian Armstrong (of Honda) rightly recognises that any agency regardless of their stripes needs to understand the whole picture, to know how the work that we may do will fit into the bigger scheme. Integration is a part of this; it's often important and beneficial for work across a range of media to immediately feel part of piece visually and tonally. Much more important, however, is that the work drives the desired behaviour and takes best advantage of the particular strengths of any individual medium to encourage these behaviours.

Philip Mehl (of HSBC) decries the perceived slump in television creativity; however, I'm not so sure this is actually the case. It's not because the industry has chosen to focus on other things that has caused TV's crown to slip - the structural changes to broadcast in the 90s and noughties took care of that. If I could promise you a magic way to make your TV 20 per cent more effective, most marketers I expect would take it. So it is exactly by creating a richer context of material across a multitude of inter-linked media, of which broadcast is but one part, that we will hope to regain some of the connection between people and brands that has been lost through media fragmentation.

Partnership and collaboration go hand in hand and Craig Inglis (of John Lewis) is right to expect both from his agencies. Any agency that expects to succeed in the future is going to have to know when to step up and lead, and when to make way for others to take centre stage. However, true collaboration doesn't happen in a vacuum, it still requires the client to be intimately involved and ready to set boundaries when required, an approach that Rick Vlemmiks (of British Gas) clearly takes to heart.

Partnership, especially, means sharing the good times and the bad. It's one thing to demand the highest standards of creativity, at super-fast speed, in a culture of increasing pressure on fees. But, as honesty is called for, it reminds me of the truism: "Good, fast and cheap - pick any two."

If I had to ask for anything, it would always be time. Not just more time, but an understanding of what it takes to deliver great work over and over again. From recent experience, the production of TV and press is a well-understood and managed process. But especially in digital, there can be huge variations in how long it will take to produce two different ideas, and when speed is required, it is especially generosity in time that will allow an agency to match shifting demands better against scarce resource.

Finally, we need access. Understanding the impact our work has and could have is essential if we are to create powerful and sustained programmes of successful work. It should always comes down to the work, and if clients can better bring us in to the process, they really will get the agencies they deserve.

- Peter Mitchell, Chief executive, Rapp London

The good news, from an agency perspective, is that nothing Campaign's esteemed panel of clients says comes as any real surprise - largely mirroring the views we get from our own client research.

The bad news is that if the same issues keep appearing, then chances are it's because clients don't believe they are being adequately addressed by agencies. So where to start? Collaboration and integration are common themes. In virtually every RFI we get these days, clients want to be assured of our ability to work in collaboration with other agencies to deliver integrated solutions.

Now some will turn cold at the apparent re-emergence of integration. But now, as the client views clearly demonstrate, it has to be taken seriously. Because, unlike in the past, it's now not being driven by agencies or clients. It's being driven by consumers.

In the media-fragmented world in which we now operate, consumers are demanding consistency of experiences across the ever-growing plethora of touchpoints. And the smart clients know that being consumer-centric is not an aspiration. It's now an imperative.

And that does demand, among other things, true collaboration between agency partners and the end of the bad old days of silo-based, budget-grabbing squabbles. But if integration is to be achieved, then client structures need to reflect this goal. If a client is structured in a silo-based way, chances are the agency relationships will reflect this structure. And in cases where integration is achieved, we also need to have a better developed metric/form of measurement to gauge the effect of collaboration.

Armstrong is right to point out that while the world, and consumer behaviour in particular, have changed dramatically, agency structures remain largely the same. Agencies need to evolve from a linear structure to a solutions-based structure. Because with the starting point for marcoms no longer constant, the spark not necessarily coming through traditional, linear work practices, we need to adapt.

Increasingly, strategy, technology and creative can no longer work in sequence but must work in parallel. And that demands greater collaboration and flexibility. But ultimately leads to a solution that is not channel-based but consumer-centric. And hence more likely to influence behaviour.

Strategic excellence is, and hopefully always will be, key for clients. But there are a minority of client procurement departments that still need to realise they are not dealing with a commodity and if strategic thinking is imperative, it has to be paid for. Strategy ultimately drives value and agencies need to share in the upside of great thinking if they are to attract "genius" thinkers.

Total honesty and transparency are values clients demand - but they must be two-way.

What agencies in this industry don't need is the guise of a strategic partnership with an ultimate budget that covers simple "matching luggage" adaptation of the brand work.

Marketing departments need to work with procurement, not be driven by them.

And ultimately, while the world has changed dramatically, life still revolves around relationships.

The better, more open and honest they are, the stronger they will be.

- Jane Ratcliffe, Chief executive, MediaCom

The media agency sector has thrived over the past decade because we have been adept at growing our clients' businesses.

While we're proud of what we've achieved - for our clients and for ourselves - we're also keenly aware of the need for improvement. You can always do better.

What is it that clients want us to do better? Judging by last week's marketers' wishlist - and I think most marketers would agree - they would like better people, better ideas, more creativity, more passion, more collaboration, more integration and more openness and honesty. Fortunately, these are the areas we are striving to improve (and, unsurprisingly, they are also, for the most part, what we would like from clients).

The challenge for media agencies - and I'm sure for other agencies too - is that while most marketers want these things, the same companies' procurement departments are seeking something very different. They just want everything cheaper.

That's fair enough. That's exactly what a procurement department should want. But it's not always compatible with the needs and wants of the marketing department. In the short term, squaring this circle is a problem for agencies: how can we offer better quality for less money? But, in the long term, it obviously becomes a problem for the clients. If they relentlessly try to cut costs, what they will eventually cut is the supply of great ideas that drive their businesses forward.

Is there a solution to this dilemma? Yes, and it's one that the smartest clients are already exploring. It derives from my opening remark. We're here to grow our clients' businesses. What we need is for clients to stop thinking about how little they can pay for each individual service, and think instead about how much value they place on ideas that grow their brands and businesses.

The best clients, as I say, are already moving in this direction, working with us to find ways to introduce more performance-related elements into our remuneration - systems that allow them to control costs, while allowing us to be rewarded for our work. As more media become more accountable, and as we can more directly attribute sales and other metrics back to communications, I hope that more clients will take this approach to remuneration: a win-win approach for both us of, rather than the often more adversarial approach.

More than one client last week asked for openness. Great. That's what we want, too. Clients who will open up and really share with us, clients who believe in genuine collaboration - which will always lead to better work.

Something else we like is a client who is prepared to put some real effort into getting a brief right. There is a huge range in quality in the briefs we get. Some are focused, inspiring and challenging and, therefore, virtually guaranteed to get great work. Others are rambling, confused and prescriptive, making it almost impossible for even the best people to deliver truly innovative solutions.

Finally, we love clients who don't just talk about innovation, but who really believe in it - clients who are willing to embrace a "test and learn" approach so that they can really explore all the amazing new opportunities that are being thrown up by the rapidly changing media landscape.

We know how hard it can be for marketers to "sell in" a new communications approach to their board, but as media become ever more measurable and trackable, we will have more and more ammunition to support them as they try to convince their colleagues to move towards more future-facing communications.

- Stephen Woodford, Chairman and chief executive, DDB UK

This collective manifesto is highly positive. From all four clients, you see the desire for great ideas and strategies, borne from collaborative and deep relationships between individuals and companies.

What strikes me is their passion for creativity, but creativity in the context of a kind of "roundtable", where talent is tempered with humility and openness to others' ideas. Who wouldn't agree?

From an agency perspective, I would add three things. The pendulum needs to swing away from the "roster roundtable" to more integrated agency structures and client teams. There is still too much salami-slicing of disciplines. Clients want agencies to think out of their boxes but, too often, keep them boxed in their disciplines. New media crosses silos and needs a different mindset from campaigns to "always on". This requires radically new thinking and structures in client and agency alike.

Consumers don't segment their experience of a brand by the channel and increasingly we should see more multi-discipline relationships. All of us want the deepest understanding of the business. So why then limit output and influence to just one channel? All want integrated thinking, but most are only paying for output in one discipline, so does the agency bear this cost as a sort of "roundtable stakes"? Clients want agencies to be partners at the highest level and agencies want nothing more than to be considered in this way. Concentrating relationships in as few agencies as possible to get scale economies and breadth of perspective is a win for all.

I think we could all do much more in terms of evaluating commercial effectiveness and making this a fundamental, ongoing part of the relationship. I'd like to see much more emphasis on accountability. The recent IPA study that links creatively awarded advertising to exceptional business results shows that seeking the highest standards of creativity makes excellent commercial sense. We need to keep on building our experience in evaluation and make an effectiveness culture an everyday reality. A good econometric model might cost the same as two quantitative pre-tests. The money is always found for pre-testing, but much less often for ongoing commercial evaluation.

This is a pre-condition for my third contribution. Only when there is really rigourous evaluation of effectiveness can we move to new performance-based models of remuneration that tie the success of client and agency together ever more closely.

I liked Armstrong's desire for "clever people with high levels of emotional intelligence". Inglis' observation that the vital ingredient in a partnership being total honesty, and Vlemmiks' recognition that it needs time and energy to make it work point to the fact that both sides need each other and need to work on the relationship as well as the work itself.

We've all got clients that share this outlook and those clients will have the most successful and commercially rewarding relationships. They will be the agency's most highly valued business on which the best talent will fight to work.