Why do clients shun the big debates?

Industry wags used to joke that adland would be a great place to work if it wasn’t for clients. Considering how few clients turned up to the Advertising Week Europe event, maybe the feeling is mutual.

Procurement, remuneration and whether or not clients are getting the best bang for their media bucks are all issues worthy of debate either from the podium or over a coffee. So why are clients largely leaving the industry to talk to itself about such things? Mainly because marketing directors are under ever-greater pressure as their departments have shrunk. "It’s a big ask of any client to take a day out for an event like this," one says. Meanwhile, some have noticed that clients will shun conferences that are too generalist in favour of more specialist ones. Nor do they like to be pestered at such events, leading Bob Wootton, ISBA’s director of media and advertising, to suggest "safe lounges" where they cannot be hassled. "They always fear being cornered and sold to by somebody talking high-tech American gibberish," he says.

Having clients involved in setting event agendas is one suggestion for getting more of them to engage. But what else needs to be done?


Ian Armstrong, global marketing communications director, Jaguar Land Rover

"My diary is just too congested to spend a whole day at events such as Advertising Week Europe, and I suspect that’s the same for most clients. There’s constant pressure on us to get the job done. What’s more, a lot of the work within a client organisation isn’t about advertising. That said, it’s important for clients to understand what’s going on, if only to keep our agencies on their toes. Agencies can learn about new ways of doing this from events such as this but only if they are relevant. Clients shouldn’t give them carte blanche to attend what they wish."

Agency head

Mark Lund, chief executive, McCann Worldgroup UK

"It’s not that clients don’t want to engage, but there are limits on their time and marketing communication is often only a small proportion of what they do. So it means clients will constantly look to their lead agencies to keep them abreast of developments. Also, it takes time for events such as Advertising Week Europe to evolve into something in which clients participate fully so that they become powerful shared experiences. That has already happened in Cannes, while the Advertising Association’s Lead summit gets a lot of participation from clients and media owners."

Agency head

Robert Senior, worldwide chief executive, Saatchi & Saatchi

"I see nothing wrong with the industry talking to itself at events such as Advertising Week Europe. Discussing home truths means that we can learn from each other. After all, we’re smart and ambitious people. Why wouldn’t we want to spend time together? I’m not sure many clients knew about Advertising Week Europe, but that’s not to say they won’t attend events they think are relevant to them and that they’re likely to benefit from. You only have to see how many of them attend the ISBA and Marketing Society conferences as well as Cannes to realise that’s true."

Trade body

Tom Knox, chairman, DLKW Lowe; president-elect, IPA

"If clients aren’t engaging, it’s because of the limited amount of time they have. Marketing directors are having to do more as their departments have shrunk, so it’s hard for them to spend even a few hours at an event, let alone a day. What’s more, as clients get more siloed, they are shunning generalist events like Ad Week Europe in favour of more specialist conferences. If you’re a financial services marketing director, it’s much easier to justify your job description by attending a financial services forum. Maybe we have to get clients more involved in drawing up event agendas."