How Agencies Are Reinventing The Agency-Client Relationship

There have been many candid conversations between agencies and clients about what each brings to the table in light of cost challenges, data issues and digital media under attack, among other matters.

Today, Publicis Groupe's Arthur Sadoun, Procter & Gamble's Marc Pritchard and Grey New York's Debby Reiner discussed how they are reinventing the agency-client relationship during the 4As Accelerate conference in Miami, Florida.

"Are we going to get disrupted or are we going to take control?" asks Pritchard. "We are going to lead it."

Most conversations center on transforming this relationship in the agency of the future. Yet Sadoun points out that no one talks about the clients of the future. "You need to invest more in your brands -- trust creativity and press technology," he says. "They need to understand if they don't do the right thing, it will be death by a thousand cuts."

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For its part, P&G has ended the "buddy system," in which every P&G staffer had an agency companion. It created too much outside noise, Pritchard says, so the company has a "mantra to say no to scrums."  Adds Reiner: "It's hard to find an idea that gets better when more people are involved."

Sadoun pressed Pritchard on his position as one of the largest ad spenders to drive costs down, resulting in agency layoffs. Pritchard clarified by saying his comments were not intended to say that agencies are over-investing in talent. "We want great account people," he says. The problem, however, is excess people -- as in the aforementioned buddy system.

P&G is under "enormous pressure" to reduce costs to invest in growth. This means everything needs to be examined more thoroughly. "It isn't just fees," says Pritchard. There is a huge opportunity to reduce production budgets, such as toolkits in which only 30% are used, he says.

P&G is looking at its own bottom line with fewer categories -- cutting its staff in half, and focusing on technology. "Our brand manager is not a product manager, but more of a brand entrepreneur," he says.

While P&G's Pritchard has made headlines for discussing his decision to move agency responsibilities in-house, he clarifies that these decisions will only be limited to areas where P&G can "create value" -- specifically digital media planning. "We don't think we can bring everything in-house," he adds.

At the same time, agencies are attempting to redefine themselves to become more of a relevant partner to their clients. Publicis Groupe is transforming the relationship by investing in the 3Ts -- talent, tools, and technology, says Sadoun.

Grey New York's Reiner says her agency is making the 75% commitment: 75% of the agency's budget will be spent on creativity by the end of 2018. "It is about how we are investing and maximizing resources where they are most valuable," she says.

Ultimately, both sides need to be clear about what each brings to the party, panelists say.

"We both need to reinvent to focus on brand building of the future, so we both grow," says Pritchard.

3 comments about "How Agencies Are Reinventing The Agency-Client Relationship".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), April 9, 2018 at 9:09 p.m.

    In this post I see a lot of rules and maxims that, if taken that way, suppress creativity and any potential for innovative thinking. Parties together on a stage, seeming on the face to agree, but with very different beliefs of what their words mean.

    "They need to understand." Whether it's in marketing or relationships, when you take the point of view that the other party "needs to understand," you classify the relationship as one where there is a right and wrong point of view, or a deficit on one side. The other party doesn't "need to understand" anything. You'd like them to take on your point of view. If we think of consumers this way in marketing, we've lost them. If you think of your agency or client partner in this way, you have no partnership.

    When a company has a mantra, it becomes a robotic party line that people repeat to show they are good team players, but that squelches any kind of originality necessary to break through. P&G comes across in this story as a less than ideal client. But, they sure have a lot of money.

    I wonder what the true outcomes of the conference were. But at least they got to go to Miami.

  2. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, April 10, 2018 at 5:13 p.m.

    It sounds more like the age old Detroit car maker system which forced the agencies to create "dedicated" units which worked only for a single client and were under that client's complete control. This might help the client to control agency fees----meaning to hold them as low as possible by not using expensive "outsiders" from the larger agency complex---even if these were more knowledgeable about certain issues and how to solve them. With the car companies what you got was an inbreeding of creative and media ideas. I hope that P&G and others who move in this direction don't repeat the car makers' mistake.

  3. Larissa Faw from Mediapost, April 10, 2018 at 5:24 p.m.

    I also wonder why P&G isn't called out for its obviously unsiloed organization. Pritchard rails against organizational bureaucracy but yet his own company is rooted in similar silos. 

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