Resetting the Client-Agency Relationship to Benefit Future Leaders

Advertisers have a responsibility to cultivate talent within their agencies

In an era of increasing reliance on data, automation and ultimately, AI, it is people that remain, and will remain, the driving force behind any successful business.

That said, the media and advertising industry is facing a recruitment crisis of its own. Acute talent and retention issues are commonplace in parts of our industry, underpinned by poor work/life balance, inadequate training and a perceived lack of purpose from marketing.

As advertisers, we must acknowledge that our business practices and behavior have an impact not only on the people on our teams, but also on the talent working on our behalf with our agency partners.

People and culture are now higher up on the agenda

Whilst advertisers look to allocate resources to nurture their in-house talent, too often, there is a disconnect between an advertiser’s interest in nurturing the talent of its agency partners. The responsibility to resolve talent issues is a joint one, working in partnership with our agencies.

After all, agencies serve their client’s needs and clients are king in their eyes. Consequently, the influence of advertisers to foster an agency relationship where talent can thrive should not be underestimated. It is these marketing professionals, working in our agencies, who have the potential to become the next marketing leaders in our business.

Earlier this year, the Global Media Board of the World Association of Advertisers (WFA) met in Istanbul to launch the 2023 Global Media Charter, the last of which was published in 2018. This Charter acts as a guide for media leaders to ensure that their corporate responsibility agenda is represented in the media decisions made, platforms invested in and partners selected.

For the first time, “People and Partners” was high on the agenda for this iteration, owing to the sense of urgency to address the wellbeing issues in our industry, evolving the way talent (in-house or outsourced) is recruited, trained, supported and developed.

An overhaul of client-agency processes

Behaviors that clients can adopt to have a positive impact on the people working for their business can be as simple as minor adjustments to the agency pitch process, often a period of extreme stress for agencies.

For example, at Danone, on a creative pitch we conducted recently, the brief was ready by the end of the year, but we released it to the agencies post the Christmas break to avoid agencies working on it during the holiday period. This might appear like a small thing, but for a pitch of this scale, it made the world of a difference for hundreds of people.

Of course, action from advertisers must go even deeper than this to fix some of the underlying structural issues that prevent the client-agency relationship from thriving in a way that cultivates talent.

This means overhauling the processes around clear and fair expectations, ways of working, governance and timelines. These can be as simple as streamlining approval and feedback processes to help free up time and headspace for agencies to do what they do best: being creative. Keeping lines of communication open (yet structured) and being respectful of communicating within acceptable working hours must become standard as part of the client-agency relationship. But too often, these lines are not respected.

Advertisers must also consider establishing stronger connections between their brands and agency partners through conducting regular brand immersion sessions and increased transparency on the context in which the business operates. This way, the relationship is less transactional and looks to overcome the perceived lack of purpose from marketing.

Ultimately, nurturing the agency relationship and helping develop its talent is a form of long-term investment, as those talents are key to helping advertisers build strong brands and grow their business.