Home > Uncategorized > The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

The Advertising Agency – Client Relationship

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

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