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CLIENT-AGENCY RELATIONSHIPS: MYTHS

‘Well that’s just clients isn’t it? They’re all a bit thick’ ‘Well don’t ask the agency to write it. They don’t care about the results’

Two genuine quotes. Both said to me. The first by a junior account executive at a former agency of mine, the latter by a client colleague when I suggested that the agency could write a presentation for us on the effect on the business bottom-line of a campaign we’d just done.

Myths, eh? As I said last time, they exist and persist. From agencies about clients and from clients about agencies. They are unhelpful, they are untrue, but they are stubbornly persistent. But as I also identified I think we can do something about them.

I learnt a lot on the client-side about client/agency relationships. But I learnt a lot more when I came back to agencies. I think I had gained a greater appreciation of how agencies and marketing clients are viewed and assessed on the client side, and the fact that they are largely seen as the same thing. Finance Directors see them as a cost-centre, Operations Directors see them as too removed from the reality of business and Sales Directors just see everyone who doesn’t work in sales as useless anyway.

So, I had learnt a lot by seeing both sides of the fence. The junior account person I mentioned last time out who was seconded to the client for a few weeks had an amazing epiphany about the challenges facing the client and the process of how to shepherd and protect creative thinking inside the client organisation.

There’s a pattern emerging here, right?

My suggestion for making sure we kill the myths (and keep them killed) is that part of all graduate programmes on both the agency and the client side is a formal, significant period of time spent on the other side of the fence. I’d suggest at least two months spent understanding the challenges faced on the other side, and a perspective on how the agency is viewed at the client and vice versa. Perhaps we could even formalise a qualification through the IPA for doing so.

It’s not revolutionary, and it’s certainly not rocket science, but I know for a fact that it doesn’t happen in the majority of graduate programmes right now (and if it does, it is a token period too short to truly learn any- thing significant). Doing this would ensure that the next generation of clients and agency folk would have a greater appreciation and empathy of their opposite numbers. And that they would hopefully start to see themselves more as partners than adversaries.

Mars and Venus? Hopefully not.

And if we can wipe it out early then hopefully the disease will stay dead. And agency/client relationships, and the creative work, will be all the better for it.

Kevin Chesters – Executive Planning Director at mcgarrybowen.

Follow Kevin on twitter @hairychesters.

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