Missing Ingredient In Agency-Client Relationships: Trust

Nearly all advertising and marketing executives (98%) say that the best work comes when clients trust their agencies, collaborate (94% agencies, 100% clients), and maintain long-standing relationships (84% agencies, 81% clients). 

Yet these attitudes are apparently less likely to be actualized, according to a survey released at Cannes today by indie ad shop RPA and USA Today that explores the agency-client relationship and what it means for creativity.

“We believe everyone in the industry has a role to play in supporting more honest conversations between agencies and marketers," says Judy Vogel, vice president of research, Gannett Co., Inc., the parent company of USA Today. 

Nearly two in three marketers (60.5%) and agency executives (70%) admit they don’t share the same definition of creativity.

More than half of marketing executives (56%) say their agencies are more interested in “selling” them their work rather than solving their problems. 

In fact, marketers and their agencies differ on many basic business goals. While nearly all agencies (90%) say they understand their client's businesses, only 65% of clients agree. Agencies are more likely than their clients to say they understand how to drive sales (84% vs. 56%) and to do a good job of demonstrating how to return ROI (76% vs. 40%). 

On the other side, 76% of agency executives say their clients are afraid to take risks and are twice as likely as their clients to feel the best creative can move their businesses (48% vs. 26%). 

Meanwhile, nearly nine in 10 marketing executives (88%) claim to speak their mind freely, even when it’s uncomfortable. But among agency leaders who frequently interact with clients, only 36% believe this is true.

Still, there are ways to come together. The survey recommends four steps that agencies, in particular, could take to help increase the level of trust in their relationships, including focusing as much on interpersonal communication as mass communication; working with clients to better define and understand the evolving role of creativity; supporting clients in recognizing the distinction between "different" and "risky;" and practicing the art of business as much as the art of advertising.

An executive summary of the results from this online survey of more than 140 senior U.S. advertising and marketing executives is available here.

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