Agencies to Clients: Sharpen Your Skills

NEW YORK In its second survey of agency leaders’ views on clients, consultancy Scan International found little improvement in key areas such as compensation, agency briefing and integration. In fact, some client skills appear to have deteriorated.

The report, “A Global Voice for Marketing Agency Leaders,” paints an overall bleak picture fraught with frustration. As one respondent wrote in an open comments section of the survey, “The clients want more and they’re lowering fees. How can I do more when they’re lowering fees?”

When asked to rate clients for their “realistic and fair compensation in respect to the scope of work and service level,” 33 percent of the respondents found them to be “weak,” 61 percent “average” and just 6 percent “excellent.” Clients scored even worse on a question about “compensating you for the value you create for them,” with 49 percent responding “weak,” 49 percent “average” and 3 percent “excellent.”

As for the quality of client briefings, 60 percent of the respondents described them as “average,” and therefore, the report said, in need of improvement. Nearly a third (32 percent) found such briefings to be “weak” and only 8 percent deemed them “excellent.” Two years ago, 40 percent said “average,” 43 percent said “weak” and more than twice as many said the briefs were “excellent” (17 percent).

And while the percentage of agency leaders who rated their clients “weak” at integrating their multi-disciplinary marketing efforts was relatively similar — 30 percent versus 36 percent in 2007 — the proportion of those who found clients to be “excellent” dropped to 11 percent from 25 percent.

In short, the key, hot-button issues remain the same, despite being underscored in previous surveys by Scan and others.

The online survey took place in February, when Scan polled 619 CEOs, chairmen and managing directors at agencies in the U.S., Canada and Europe. They included DDB, BBBO, McCann Erickson, Draftfcb, Saatchi & Saatchi, Initiative, Mediaedge:cia, MPG, Zenith Optimedia, Starcom and Hill & Knowlton. Each respondent answered about 40 questions.

The goal, said Hein Becht, president and CEO of Amsterdam-based Scan — a collective of seven regional search consultants that includes The Haystack Group in London and Joanne Davis Consulting in New York — is to help clients “improve their part of the relationship and prevent them from going from one agency to the next and having the same problems.”

Davis attributed negative feelings in part to the strain of agencies being asked by clients to do more for less.

The mediocre-to-poor marks on briefings are particularly disconcerting given the importance of clear, thorough and complete direction to agencies at the onset of the creative development process, Davis added. “Everything starts with the brief,” she said. “It’s the classic ‘Ready, aim, fire.'” And if agencies get incomplete information, she noted, “you’re potentially wasting money.”
Arthur Anderson of Morgan Anderson Consulting in New York, who was not involved in the survey, said frustration surrounding the briefing process is long-standing as well. “Generally in the past, clients have not done this well and agencies need to be mind readers,” he said.

Part of the problem may be that relatively junior client executives are briefing shops, said Davis. “This is the work for grown-ups” who have the power to both approve and “kill” work, she said.

The lack of integration excellence rubs both ways. Client executives have long complained that agency rhetoric about integration lags reality. Still, “80 percent of the responsibility is on the client side,” said Anderson. “It’s their money and it’s their investment.”