Audi and Venables Bell Share 5 Tips to Make Agency-Client Relationships Last

The duo celebrated a decade together in 2017

Here's how Audi and Venables Bell & Partners have stayed together for a decade. Getty Images
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The long-standing agency of record relationships may seem to be more and more of a rarity, but you’ll still find a handful of long-term relationships that are going strong.

Take Audi and Venables Bell & Partners, for example. The duo started working together in 2006 and in the last 10 years have continued to produce inspiring creative in major marketing arenas like the Super Bowl—this February Audi and VB&P made a bold statement with an ad tackling the gender pay gap by telling the story of a father and his daughter—and in its day-to-day marketing efforts.

At Advertising Week New York this week, Loren Angelo, VP, marketing for Audi of America and Paul Birks-Hay, partner and president at Venables Bell & Partners, took the stage to talk about how they’ve managed to keep their relationship alive and thriving for over a decade now. Here are some of their key takeaways.

When VB&P was pitching for the Audi business in 2006, the agency was up against some tough competition including the incumbent and two other agencies with auto and luxury experience (VB&P at the time had neither). So what did it take for a rookie shop to win the account?


“If you look at the honesty you have to express in any relationship, it can sometimes be a little hurtful and maybe a little surprising, and it was that thing that put Venables Bell & Partners on the map and our radar screen because they came with this real truth and the real truth was America was a little different,” Angelo said.

The challenge at the time was that Audi was looking to build its market share in the states. The German car company was thriving in its homeland but in the U.S. no one was looking at Audi as a progressive luxury car brand.

So when VB&P went to pitch the brand, the agency got pretty real. VB&P creatives made a film that basically told the German brand that in the U.S., Audi’s oversees success and innovation was meaningless. The brand needed to adapt its messaging for an American audience and VB&P would help them do that.

“What we didn’t know was Audi of America were desperately looking for an opportunity to explain to their German counterparts that America was different, and that film became that,” Birks-Hay said. “It went around the halls of Audi Germany and became the things that set the table for the types of marketing Audi would do in America.”

Once Audi took a big risk hiring VB&P, the duo needed to now take some risks together to build the Audi brand and gain consumer awareness in America.

“Audi wasn’t really considered a luxury brand in the same way Mercedes was. We had to create something of seismic proportions to change the conversations, and the reason for that is simple,” Birks-Hay said. “The car wasn’t publicly seen as a prestigious car so we had to not just create a private desire for the car but my neighbor needed to want one, my neighbor’s neighbor needed to want one.”

That desire to get the brand in front of millions and millions of Americans led the partners to only one possibility. The 2006 Super Bowl.

“Imagine the conversation between Audi of America and Audi of Germany, which went something like, ‘So…we are going to the Super Bowl. We’re going to spend 10 percent of our entire budget in 60 seconds flat. We are going to advertise a car that we don’t need to sell and no one can afford to buy and also we are going to do it in a way that harks our wonderfully restrained sophisticated tone of voice and instead picks a fight with the most prestigious brand on the planet on the biggest stage,’” Birks-Hay added.

So yeah, the decision to run a Super Bowl spot for a luxury car in 2006 was a huge risk, but one that paid off because the partners were on the same page, from start to finish, about the tone and direction of the messaging. The first spot was such a hit that Audi has continued to make appearances in the Super Bowl, with the help from VB&P, delivering some big hits including 2017’s gender equality spot and the charming 2016 space-themed ad set to David Bowie’s “Starman.”

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.