Archive for June, 2017

The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

June 23, 2017 1 comment

When I was in the advertising agency business, which is not too long ago, it often was apparent that agencies valued the relationship they had with their clients far more than vice versa. Stories of many clients sending agencies on red herring projects, delayed payments, calling for needless pitches, continually beating agencies down on rates/prices were literally SOP.

Not true for all clients obviously, but for many. The paranoia of one day being put on review drove the agency to all sorts of weird behaviour as well as anxiety. Not good for morale or Quarterly projections.

This puzzled many agency people because we compared ourselves to other professionals, like lawyers, chartered accountants or doctors.

Publicly, of course, clients swore on their agency relationships.


Then this happens:

Recently there was news of Amex moving their business from Ogilvy to McGarrybowen. A client who was with the agency for 55 years did that without a pitch, just one fine day they upped and moved.

3 years ago Johnnie Walker did a similar thing. ‘Keep walking’ a BBH created campaign widely acknowledged as the best piece of work in the spirits category was not enough for the agency to retain the business. They put the business up for a pitch and moved it to Anomaly.

Clearly something is wrong with this equation, and it doesn’t seem quite like clients value their agency as equal partners.

And then earlier this week I saw this article. Publicis decided that they were going to pull out of Cannes and other festivals to focus on internal infrastructure.

Of all the responses, this one from one of their biggest clients tell you everything about the relationship between clients and agencies:

Diageo uses Cannes to get to know agencies it is considering hiring, said Mark Sandys, who oversees Diageo’s global beer business, as well as Smirnoff and Baileys. This week the company’s agenda includes a two-hour speed dating session with a group of agencies it is targeting.”Some of the agencies I’ve met, big and small, I come away from the dinners or meetings thinking, ‘Wow those are great people to work with, we should be thinking about them next time something comes up for a pitch.’

To my mind, this paragraph says it all.

What kind of business is this, where a client says openly that he goes to Cannes to meet other agencies, all the while having a happy relationship with his agency back home?


Should clients expect undying loyalty from their agencies till ‘death do them apart’ if the same level of commitment is missing from their end?

Clients don’t attend every lawyer convention to see what’s new out there. When you have signed on a legal firm you don’t call for pitches, or continually hold the threat of being fired. Same with CA firms. These relationships are contract bound and are usually terminated mostly for ‘malpractice’. There is value in these relationships gained over time which clients seek to leverage over the course of the relationship.

Somehow when it comes to agencies, it seems all bets are off.

And, obviously am not generalising but when you see names like Amex and Diageo in this sort of conversation, you got to wonder how wide spread this malaise really is.

Do agencies need some sort of protection mechanism against these seemingly whimsical behaviours from their trusted partners?

I don’t have Answers just Questions.

Categories: Uncategorized

What do you do when things go wrong?

June 12, 2017 1 comment

Over the weekend I was watching a cricket match. Australia vs England. Australia had finished their innings and England was batting. England got into a spot of trouble early on and the Australians were all around the batsmen hoping to make further inroads and win the match to keep them in the tournament. But things didn’t go according to plan and the two batsmen played England to victory.

Through the innings the camera kept showing the increasingly frustrated face of the Australian captain. One of the commentators said ‘ This is the problem with the team, they have no Plan B’.


While the story has to do with sports, we find the same situation replicated in real life.

At one extreme the storied situation United Airlines was in, where they had overbooked the flight (which happens all the time) and had to get a passenger to deplane. He refused (which they didn’t anticipate). And they called in cops to physically pull him out causing injury to the passenger and to the brand. While this is probably the rarest of the rare, brands nowadays often face similar situations and how they react makes customers decide whether they want to stay on with it or not.

Amazon, of course set the bar high, early on in their business, where refunds ‘no questions asked’ were just unheard off.

My experience with amazon has always been good. They don’t always get their delivery right but their ability to fix it, I have found, is next to none.

Flipkart on the other hand is a mess. (my experience) They seem to have no idea how to handle customer issues. And I have had two issues with two orders and stopped going back to them. (With great reluctance I just bought a phone from their site last week, because only they had the model I wanted, and this is an issue too.)

Some of the newer brands have been very good. A few months ago I ordered a shirt from the Bombay Shirt Company. As I was not in a hurry for it, I put it away to wear at an appropriate occasion. Some 3 months later, I pulled out the, by then, dry cleaned shirt and alas, the sleeves were too short. Unhappy that I had lost a few thousand rupees I wrote to them about the problem. Within hours I got a call from them. They said they would replace it. And they did.

I have had similar good experiences with placesoforigin and dunzo. Swiggy and bigbasket not so much.

The born on the web brands seem to understand, though, that customer service is a key aspect of their brand proposition. They have made some investments in that space and are at varying levels of excellence.

Offline businesses moving online that have traditionally not had to pay attention to this aspect of their business model need to undertake a cultural transformation to bring this to the core of their business.

When everything is going well, no one notices. It is when things go wrong that reputations get built.13d68adfcd0859ac00269d8b8403fa70

One of my bosses, the founder of Direct Marketing, R Sridhar, published a booklet titled, Life begins after the coupons come in. I think we can safely update it to ‘Brands get built when customer service kicks in’

Categories: Uncategorized
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