Report addresses gulf of understanding between clients and agencies

LONDON - A new initiative to bring about better mutual understanding between agencies and clients in the quest for more effective creative work was this week launched by Britain's industry bodies.

Their jointly-produced guide aims to overcome the fear of many clients about judging the ideas their agencies present - and to ensure agencies do not to put their preoccupation with awards and mould breaking ads ahead of their clients' interests.

The guide, called Judging Creative Ideas, has been published by the IPA, ISBA, the Marketing Communications Consultants Association and the Public Relations Consultants Association.

It follows research suggesting a wide chasm between how agencies and clients assess creative work and what it should achieve.

While 97%  of clients believe the most important factor in judging creative work should be how well it will accomplish its objectives, only 55 per cent of agencies share that view.

And while 72% of agencies questioned claimed to believe creative work should be "true to the brand", only 36% of clients thought they really meant it.

Moreover, although 13% of agencies want their work to be radical, no client believed mould-breaking creativity should be an objective.

"Clearly, there are major gaps that need bridging if a trusting relationship is to be created," the guide warns. But it adds: "Trust cuts both ways. While clients are unlikely to value any agency that puts its interests before theirs, agencies won't do their best for clients who are unconstructive, unhelpful or paralysed by indecision."

Patrick Collister, the former Ogilvy & Mather executive creative director, who wrote the guide, said: "Judging creative ideas is never easy but the guide offers shared criteria for more effective relationships."

In part the guide is a response to what is perceived as a serious lack of training to prepare senior clients for judging creative work. Debbie Morrison, ISBA's director of membership services, said: "A handful of companies, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Masterfoods and Diageo to the fore, provide training. Others merely hope that on-the-job experience will provide the necessary tutorials."

The guide suggests clients can lay the groundwork for a productive relationship by getting to know their agency brand teams, give information when asked for it (" 'You don't need to know that' is demoralising"), do not deliver the brief as a fait accompli and be courteous. "Regularly keeping your agency waiting in reception for an hour will not make them go the extra mile for you."

Clients can also impress agencies if they know who has been winning the major creative awards and if they are knowledgable about what is happening on the adscene.

"Don't put the kettle on in the ad breaks," the guide advises. "Do read The Sun. Open the mail-packs that land on your doormat. Check the promotions in-store when you go shopping. Click on the ads on the internet. It will help remind you of the people you want to talk to."

Equally important is that each side should feel comfortable in how they interact with each other.

"The creatives, some agencies say, are paid to create - not sit in meetings where, often being poor presenters, they can either be too argumentative or too eager to please," the guide points out.

"The downside to this is that clients sometimes feel frustrated that their questions have to be filtered through an intermediary who is rarely empowered to agree to suggestions or changes there and then."

According to the guide, the best clients "make informed decisions in which their agency's advice and their own gut-feelings are combined. In effect, they become co-editors or even co-authors of the idea."

But it urge agencies to give the maximum help to clients in reaching their decisions. "Many creative people don't know how they have their ideas, but if they want their clients to buy them, it behoves agencies to try to explain them."

It adds: "Perhaps agencies make life more difficult for themselves by appearing to be obsessed with originality. Clients, by contrast, are obsessed with what works."

The guide also stresses the importance of the brief. It warns of how time and money are wasted and creative levels plummet if the brief is poor and stresses the importance of brief writers in helping eliminate red tape when it comes to approving work.

"Tellingly, only 42 per cent of brief writers come to the creative review," it says. "This may explain why 75 per cent of all ideas have to go through three stages of approval and 22 per cent go through four."

Nevertheless, the guide urges clients to resist giving agencies immediate feedback on the ideas they have presented. They should think first before responding in writing.

"If you think the idea is good but the execution weak, most agencies will be excited at being asked to do more," it says. "You are challenging them to do their best. If you are rejecting the idea, be clear as to why."

Clients are also warned about using research to avoid having an opinion or making a decision and to avoid making small changes to creative ideas if they are unlikely to make a significant difference. "The less you do to a new ad challenging idea, the more you might learn about it in research," it suggests.

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