Accountability In Agency-Client Relationships Is A Two-Way Street

The average client-agency relationship is in sharp decline, creating much tension and uncertainty for both advertisers and agencies. Billions of marketing dollars are still channeled through randomly selected agencies by clients of all sizes without agency strategy or model, and with no clear path to turn these agencies into higher-value partnerships.

Surprisingly, most advertisers still make ill-informed, on-the-fly decisions. Companies rarely invest the time and effort needed to design and align on an overarching strategy before making important decisions such as kicking off a new agency search or assigning work to roster agencies. They don’t look at themselves in the mirror and ask difficult questions. As a result, they end up losing time and resources they can never recover.

On the other side of the relationship, historically agencies have struggled with the ability to vocalize how to hold clients accountable. The line between customer service and trusted adviser is a difficult one to establish. The absence of a clear agency strategy and action plan can add confusion and uncertainty, internally and externally.



This need for clear strategic vision is why it is critical that brands partner with the right agency and more importantly first establish the right agency model for the brand. Often easier said than done, but consider the following “secrets to success” for building the best agency partnerships that will ensure you meet and exceed your campaign and business goals.

Conduct a thorough assessment of your internal program needs.

  • Conduct an initial assessment of your brand’s requirements, key strategies and team priorities and establish a comprehensive scope of work.
  • Interview key stakeholders, identify budget owners and determine their priorities and address any potential misalignment early on.
  • Evaluate for any gaps in talent and determine what can be filled by an agency partner.

Identify what stays in-house and what external skills are needed most.

  • Assess which competencies you want to build or keep in-house by calculating the cost/benefit of keeping that expertise on the payroll.
  • Consider what external skills are most needed to augment and complement internal talent and resources – ask yourself if any work could be fully automated or enabled by technology? Agency support is often leveraged for specialized skills such as strategic planning, customer insight and media buying.
  • Conduct this analysis regularly. Make a point to evaluate what skills should be sourced internally or through an agency partner.

 Make a plan for managing agency resources:

  • Ensure visibility into the finances (including retainers, additional fees and various budget demands) as well as the ability to report out on activities (priorities, campaigns, projects, deliverables, etc.).
  • Agree on an approach for establishing and revisiting campaign calendars and even annual strategies. This level of management is crucial to organizational success.

 Understand how your agency plans to keep you accountable:

  • Acknowledge mutual accountability and set expectations for performance measurement. This goes both ways, not just how well the agency is performing but do they have a great client partner.
  • Have upfront discussions about what the agency needs from the client to be successful. Are they getting the support and resources needed?

 These four steps absolutely are worth the time and consideration. The upfront investment in setting up a quality relationship between a brand and agency will always save time and money and be hugely beneficial in the end. It becomes the company roadmap to a shared definition of success with the agency partner(s).

A last bit of advice: You’ve spent such valuable energy establishing your agency model and setting parameters for a great working relationship, but don’t forget to periodically review your chosen agency model and operating plan – always allow for course correction and improvements.

A quality agency and client relationship can lead to actions designed to strengthen the quality of the work, improve the client/agency engagement, drive greater cost-efficiencies, and build new agency and client team skills and capabilities where those are needed. However, if the chosen agency strategy doesn’t address and deliver on core business challenges faced by the company, it will not receive the level of executive and staff attention and support it needs to stay strong and flourish.

1 comment about "Accountability In Agency-Client Relationships Is A Two-Way Street".
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  1. Ed Papazian from Media Dynamics Inc, February 28, 2019 at 7:54 a.m.

    Very good article, Bruno. It's so easy to blame the agencies for every failure or lapse without accepting the fact that clients are the ones who sign off on everything of consequence that the agencies do for them. More than the agency bashers realize, many clients provide very poor direction, too little data, terrible confusion between functions like sales and brand managing, etc. and, frankly,  many clients nudge or force the agencies into making "reommendations" ---brand positionning, "creative" and media ones--- that they, themselves have arbitrarily mandated. If advertisers are really "partners" with their agencies shouldn't they accept responsibility as well?

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