Survey: Clients ‘Weak’ at Integration

NEW YORK Agencies and clients couldn’t agree more about integration. Each concurs that the other fails miserably at it.

That’s just one of several findings of a survey of 103 U.S. agency leaders conducted by Joanne Davis Consulting here in conjunction with Scan International Marketing Communication Management.

CEOs and presidents of creative and media shops responded to 40 questions, which probed everything from client briefings and relationship management to communications and integration.

Some 36 percent of the respondents rated client integration skills as “weak,” and a mere 25 percent said clients were “good” at it. Previous surveys of agencies have yielded similar results about marketers. Still, Joanne Davis expressed surprise about the degree to which agency leaders felt clients had failed at integration skills.

“That means 36 percent are wasting a huge chunk of money,” Davis said.

“Integration is the 800-pound gorilla,” said Tom Finneran, evp, management services at the American Association of Advertising Agencies here. “And as you have the proliferation of media, integration becomes a tougher challenge.”

Less surprising were the respondents’ strong preference for strategic pitches over creative pitches and their dissatisfaction in the area of compensation. Half the respondents rated clients “weak” in compensating agencies for value creation, and 83 percent preferred strategic pitches.

When asked to prioritize the areas in which clients need to improve most, No. 1 was the briefing of agencies, at 45 percent, followed by the quality of the decision-making process, at 35 percent, and relationship management, at 33 percent. A client’s ability to brief, in fact, was rated as poorly as its integration skills.

“Everyone is trying to do everything quickly,” said Lowe North American CEO Nancy Hill. “So no one is taking the time to actually give it considered thought.”

A brief has “got to be a living tool that people buy into,” said Finneran, who added that it should incorporate the look, tone and feel the client wants, as well as its media plan. “Some clients make all parties sign it.”

Agencies also graded marketers poorly in the area of relationship management, with 70 percent saying clients would get more value if they focused on the quality of the relationship. In addition, some 61 percent of the respondents said marketers fail to notify agencies of problems before hiring another shop or firing them.

The root of most of these problems is “the basics,” said Bill Duggan, an evp at the Association of National Advertisers. “It’s communication, education. Obviously, an open dialogue between client and agency is critical, but it’s more of a short-term environment these days.”

Wall Street pressures to deliver short-term business results, coupled with the increasingly short tenure of chief marketing officers “probably lends itself to less relationship building than in the past,” Duggan acknowledged.

Another consultant found that 80 percent of poor client-agency work practices stem from the client.

“It’s the client’s money at stake, and clients lead the relationship. The real question is, how can clients correct this situation?” said Arthur Anderson of Morgan Anderson Consulting in New York. “There are tools now. For example, there are Web-enabled tools that define, codify and identify the work practices that can be corrected so as to add value to a specific client-agency relationship.”

“There are far too many reviews,” Anderson added. “People ought to communicate and work out their problems.”

Roughly half the respondents came from traditional agencies. The rest included shops specializing in media buying, direct marketing, promotions, interactive marketing and brand identity work. The group ranged in size from a shop with $10 million in revenue and approximately 40 staffers to global networks with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, said Davis.

“The main hope,” said Davis, “is for marketers to be aware of the issues and how intense the issues are.” Furthermore, Davis is encouraging shops to apply the survey to the process by which clients assess their performance.

“Use this survey in connection with those conversations to say, ‘What can we do better?’ And vice versa,” Davis said.