Ad agencies: Partners or suppliers?

Derek Day

Agencies have always liked to think of themselves as partners but Derek Day questions just how realistic this is. Quoting marketers' criticisms of the agency world's unwillingness to understand the commercial logic of their clients' business, he offers advice as to how to improve the relationship.

For an industry supposedly at the fulcrum of capitalist enterprise, the advertising business displays few outward signs of commerciality. The layperson, on a first-time tour of a typical advertising agency, would be surprised to find themselves in a low-pressure environment somewhere between an art dealership and a private members club: ironic sculptures in reception, table football in the creative zone.

At the bar - and there would be a bar - the conversation would be noticeably innocent of the vulgar language of trade: no talk here of 'pricing', 'distribution' or 'sales'. Instead, the visitor will overhear reverent discussion of mysterious, almost-Masonic, notions such as 'Golden Lions', 'Silver Arrows', 'Black Pencils'. The closest to the marketplace that the chatter comes is the occasional reference to consumer insights, and the desire to stimulate consumer conversations. It is a long way from Orwell's 'rattling stick in a bucket of swill'.