The Warc Blog

The Warc Blog

Why clients and their agencies need relationship counsellors
Judie Lannon, Editor, Market Leader
Judie Lannon

The psychologist Oliver James recently quoted research which said that in the 1950s, two out of three women said they would marry someone they didn't love. The same question asked recently produced 95% saying they would only marry for love. This led him to conclude that many women are unhappy today because their expectations are too high and they are too fussy. (More than one friend has despaired of her daughter's tendency to rank, order, rate and make lists of good and bad points of perspective mates - dangerous territory.)

It may seem a ridiculous leap of logic but something along these lines may be at the root of client and agency relationships. When full service agencies were in their heyday, it was fashionable to speak of clients as marrying the big, solid, reliable one, but occasionally straying into dalliances with a small alluring shop promising fabulous creative. That, at least, was a metaphor everyone understood. The big agencies cooked dinner, washed clothes, took the children to school, did the housework, provided comfort and reassurance and generally kept the show on the road, while the small ones provided the fireworks sex.

Not to strain the metaphor to breaking point, it now looks like there's a different agency for each and every one of these tasks, which seems, on the face of it, to be breathtakingly wasteful. No wonder clients endlessly complain about having too many agencies to manage and why you can never get any of them on the phone.

The Harvard Business Review recently ran a whole feature on the loss of trust - talking about consumers and companies. But clients and their agencies may be suffering from the same thing. (What is particularly ironic is that today's technology engenders extraordinary levels of trust with perfect strangers - e.g. eBay and other 'sharing/bartering' websites, not to mention the intimate information regularly provided for public consumption via social media sites).

But you have to ask what is it that eats away at trust? For whatever reasons, expectations are too high leading to inevitable disappointment. Agencies promise too much and clients share too little. There is certainly some kind of mismatch between promises and delivery. And here I would point to comments made in Market Leader by Camilla Honey and Richard Pinder in their recent article, How to improve client-agency relations.

Honey rightly criticizes agencies for failing to get to grips with their clients' deeper business issues - a recurring theme. But Pinder's view is more challenging. He takes clients to task for failing to provide the visionary leadership that takes the initiative in training, sharing and involving agencies which, in the long run, gets more innovative and imaginative work. If both of these situations improved, clients should be able to find happiness with fewer and better agencies.

Subjects: Advertising, Marketing

24 February 2011 14:45

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