Clients Say Shops Are Too ‘Reactive’

The complaints are all too familiar, but a new poll of client executives finds that agencies still aren’t proactive enough and need to make more of an effort to grasp the business challenges that clients face.

Asked to identify their top sources of frustration with agencies, the execs pointed to “more reactive than proactive” above all else, followed by “poor communication,” “not understanding our company’s business” and “insufficient creativity or originality.”

Among the words of advice they offered in response to another question were “act as a partner, not only a provider,” “try to become more knowledgeable about the product category than your client,” “talk less” and “make sure you have the required expertise in the industry that you care selling to.”

Some 327 marketing execs took the poll, which research company Ad-ology conducted online in January. The resulting report, “Attitudes on Agencies,” probes everything from the top factors that marketing leaders consider when selecting shops to how their marketing budgets will likely change this year.

Fifty percent of the respondents expect their budgets to grow in 2010, though 21 percent of those projected an increase of just 1 to 5 percent. Another third of the sample said their budgets would be flat, and 17 percent said they’d be down compared to 2009.

This year, respondents plan to spend more on digital marketing and customer relationship management efforts and less on trade shows, conferences and promotions.

When asked which types of ad efforts will likely receive more funding, the execs pointed to social media initiatives, direct marketing, online video and mobile marketing, among others.

Cost considerations aside, marketing leaders cited creative capabilities as the top factor in selecting an agency, followed by the caliber of past work, an understanding of their consumers, category experience and responsiveness.

Ad-ology lead analyst Michelle O’Brien declined to identify the companies represented in the survey, but the sectors they operate in include retail, banking, healthcare, technology, entertainment, travel and automotive.

This was Ad-ology’s first such survey of client sentiments about agencies, and the Westerville, Ohio-based company plans to conduct the poll annually going forward, according to O’Brien.