Obsession with paid media billings diminishes what agencies now do for clients
A view from Caroline Foster Kenny

Obsession with paid media billings diminishes what agencies now do for clients

Agencies should leave aside the blunt instrument of paid billings to show their real worth, Caroline Foster Kenny argues.

Campaign’s "Pitch Update" and the associated "new-business rankings" table are long-established fixtures in this sector and many of us still wait (breath sometimes bated) for their publication each week.

This isn’t all that surprising, given our obsession with new business and billings. 

It’s natural to place the greatest emphasis on account wins and that’s understandable – new business is exciting, and we’ll continue to beat down the door when there’s a win to shout about.

But we’re now in a media and agency world whereby "biggest does not mean the best" anymore.

As scale becomes less relevant in our programmatic world, and "big" is increasingly associated with slow and siloed, why do we continue to consider "highest billings" to be king?

When clients assess and compare agencies, most will now fortunately look beyond size of their agency and their new business performance to get an accurate measure of the real health and success of an agency.

So taking a step back, it’s apparent that taken in isolation, paid media billings are a pretty blunt instrument as a measure of an agency’s success.

Here are a few thought starters as to what could be alternative, more appropriate and relevant metrics in our new media world that we should all be placing greater focus on and holding to account.

A better way to measure media success

For over 10 years now, we’ve been shouting about how our capabilities are evolving and expanding across owned and earned media, increasingly key drivers of brand and business growth, so fixating on paid media billings doesn’t offer much insight into the broader health or progression of an agency.

Getting a better understanding of an agency’s profile of paid vs owned and earned media, can reveal a lot about that agency, not just its offering, but also its motivations.  

Interestingly RECMA now recognises client retention in its new business scoring system.

In my view, retaining a client during a competitive pitch is even more impressive than winning new business.

When new contenders are invited to bring their "A" game with star players and fresh thinking, but the client chooses to remain with their incumbent agency, it demonstrates trust (often cited as lacking in client/agency relationships), belief and partnership.

Client retention and longevity of relationships often indicate consistent high performance, rather than one-hit wonders.   

Another potential KPI for agency performance has to be talent retention as churn rates are a key indicator of whether an agency is flourishing or floundering.

Too many clients are often left frustrated as they see their agency team continually going through a revolving door.

Agencies that attract, motivate and retain their staff, must be getting something right; and of course, nurturing enthused and engaged people ultimately benefits the client as much as the agency. 

Equally, a diverse and inclusive employee profile is proven to drive incremental success, so it makes sense to focus more on these kind of agency metrics as opposed to what ‘big billings’ business has been won.

Training, flexibility in work/life balance, diversity and equality, all key signs as to whether an agency is progressive or not. 

And what about client satisfaction? It’s arguably the most defining aspect of an agency’s ability to deliver against client needs. Most agencies now conduct some kind of ongoing client satisfaction measurement.

If I wanted to get a fuller view of potential agency partners, I’d be asking about some of the insights and results existing clients are awarding them.

After all, what provides a more objective representation of an agency’s health?

Maybe Campaign could take the lead here, by surveying and publishing Net Promoter Scores for the agency world.

As transparency comes to the fore, we should have nothing to hide if we really are meeting (and better yet, exceeding) our clients’ ever-demanding expectations.   

Placing such great focus on paid-media billing wins not only diminishes all we do, but also misses the mark on what both agencies and their clients seek to achieve.

It’s time to evolve our KPIs to better reflect what real progression and health looks like in a thriving media agency today. 

Caroline Foster Kenny is EMEA chief executive of IPG Mediabrands 

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