Client Relations in a Real-Time World

What matters to clients in an increasingly commoditized world, one in which agencies have to make real-time decisions? Creativity. Results. Listening to and offering clients a new form of leadership.

Only a few short years ago, clients managed their P&Ls to an annual report. Now, clients need to see that their agencies are adding value every day. This means agencies are only as good as the last things they’ve done.

Unfortunately, agencies have allowed themselves to become commodities. But clients — and the times — call for new models and ways of thinking. The agency business, for one, has to more effectively address client needs. Everybody talks about how procurement is more prevalent, for example, and that its sole purpose is to drive down costs. Well, to have the kind of impact we need on clients, both sides need to change the dialog.

What I’m hearing matters most to clients is optimization. This includes optimization of resources, whether human or financial; optimization of processes so they’re done in shorter periods of time; optimization of the agency’s product offering (our creative work and innovations); and, increasingly important — and rightfully demanding — the optimization of results.

Our collective goal should be to change the dialog from a cost-centered perspective to a performance-based one. Would a client be willing to pay more to get greater results? The answer should, of course, be yes.

Here, changes that need to be made:

1. Break down the silos and focus on results: Clients and agencies are not having the right kinds of discussions because silos still exist among procurement, marketing and finance. Instead, they should be having one conversation about how to get the greatest value and the greatest results from their investment.
Historically, one reason for not having these all-important talks about results is there wasn’t always the appropriate data insights and metrics on the back-end. Now, thanks to advances in technology, these sorts of conversations should, and can, become second nature. And in changing the dialog from cost to optimization, clients will change their view of commodity to value.

2. Elevating our game: On the agency side, we should structure our organization in a way that reflects both what’s important to our clients and the reality of how they’re organized. These days, more marketers are looking for consultative services that deal with strategy, platforms and new revenue streams. Many are demanding their marketing partner deliver far more than creative. They’re looking to them for innovation and to understand their consumers in a holistic environment that mirrors the way they live.

There should be two sides to the operations of an agency: the consultative side, delivering strategic insights and powerful creative that gets results; and one that focuses on delivering high production value.

In essence, agencies should mirror clients’ resources. Their marketing staff is concerned with the optimization of the strategic platform that leads to optimized creative expression and innovation, as well as the application of data analytics for greater consumer understanding. Their procurement teams are all about the optimization of costs and speed and process — which align with the production side of our business. They’re looking for high-quality production capabilities that provide cost efficiencies and speed to market in an error-free environment.

The client’s finance side is all about the optimization of their investment.

Agencies need to speak fluently and comfortably with all these stakeholders. This will go a long way toward changing the client’s view of agencies as commodities to partners offering real value. All sides need to be aligned in the belief that there’s no way to separate creativity from accountability. This is especially important in a world where agencies are now expected, and able, to validate our creative product and optimize our marketing mix in real time if it’s not quickly moving the sales needle.

3. Reshaping relationships: Clients and agencies need to continue to redefine how we address and influence consumer decisions. We need to synthesize and analyze not only company data, but the deep, up-to-date consumer insights that come from quickly capturing — and constantly reassessing — how our clients’ customers and prospects experience, talk about, research and process messages about their brands.

The economic environment has indeed stimulated a new marketing consciousness. Clients say they want accountability for every dollar, and they want cause and effect. More than ever, clients and agencies alike need to focus on measurable ideas that move the market.

Yes, clients are looking to agencies for this new form of leadership. Our ability to measure, learn, adjust and optimize our product in real time is precisely what creates value for them. Importantly, that will lead to growth for all of us.

Laurence Boschetto is CEO and president of Draftfcb.