More than seven out of 10 clients are not satisfied with their advertising agencies, claiming their shops are overcompensated, understaffed and not as creative as they were two decades ago, according to a survey being released this week.
The poll, conducted in March and April by Continental Consulting Group in Stamford, Conn., comprises responses from decision makers at 300 large and small advertisers.
"With agency staffing cut by an average of 25 percent over the past three years, more work is being done by fewer and less experienced people," said Joe Dell'Aquila, Continental Consulting managing partner. "These changes are impacting clients in a negative way."
Major client complaints, the survey found, include a lack of adequate agency staffing, high turnover, less experienced account-management personnel and weak strategic thinking. In all, 71 percent of respondents agreed totally with the statement, "I am not happy with my advertising agency."
Despite recent agency efforts to rein in costs, 81 percent of respondents said their agency is overpaid and shop personnel are stretched too thin. Another 78 percent said the quality of agency staffers is less than what it was five years ago, and more than half said the person heading their account team is less experienced than an account manager would have been five or 10 years ago.
"The current environment demands a certain level of success from quarter to quarter, whereas in the past, those pressures weren't necessarily as intense," the survey quotes one respondent, a marketing officer with a client that spends approximately $200 million annually on ads. "Plus, agencies have changed in terms of consolidation; they've gotten bigger, and the costs of advertising have risen, all of which results in a feeling [on the part of clients] that 'we want to get what we pay for.' "
Still, Dell'Aquila said he urges advertisers to resist demands of quick success as they build both campaigns and a relationship with agencies.
"It takes time for an agency to understand a client's culture and its market, and clients should not be so quick to fire their agency," he said. "It's an important part of creating a strategic partnership with the agency—and many comments written on the responses indicated that agencies are not viewed as strategic partners anymore."
The poll results are naturally affected by a still-dismal economy, noted Erwin Ephron, principal consultant for the Ephron Consultancy in New York. "If you take a look at the compensation of agencies over [the last decade], it has gone down drastically, so I think that agencies are underpaid and overworked," he said. "Between that position and the [Continental Consulting] survey, there's the truth."