Getting Back Together: Why Clients Return

Relationships between ad agencies and clients can be as complex and tempestuous as teenage dating. Clients often begin to wonder if the partner that wooed them with genius is really the best they can do, and shops sometimes think their partner is so difficult that they’re not worth their effort.

But, just like on-again-off-again relationships, some clients get a renewed appreciation for their former shops after taking some time apart.

This month, DirectTV returned to Deutsch after a two-year fling with BBDO. In January, Ikea brought its account back to the shop after a six-year absence. Last summer, Carfax reunited with The Martin Agency after two years with Lowe. The summer before that, Miramax Films returned its media account to Palisades after a year with Zenith Optimedia. And Apple eventually circled back to one of its early shops, TBWA\Chiat\Day in Playa del Rey, Calif., in 1997 after an 11-year absence.

Deutsch, which gained about $180 million in billings with the two accounts, maintained contact with both companies and monitored their success. For the past six years, CEO Linda Sawyer stayed in contact with Ikea, which it held for 13 years, after losing the account in 2000. She said she wrote occasional letters to the company noting its growth.

“Having been partners for so long, we were both involved from afar with what was going on with each other’s companies,” she said. “There was always a pipeline of communication.” Ikea execs were unavailable for comment. But when Ikea returned its account to Deutsch on Jan. 13, Ikea North America president Pernille Lopez said, “Having been apart for some time, we have both learned and developed. Now we are back together again sharing the same values.” She also pointed out that Sawyer was part of the original team at Deustch that worked on the brand.

Even after its split with DirecTV, the agency kept up with the client in a similar fashion. “Just the way some people follow sports, we follow business,” said Michael Duda, partner, director of business development and corporate initiatives at Deutsch. “In the last 23 months, we’ve been well aware of what’s been going on at DirecTV.”

A DirecTV representative called the decision to move the account back “sound business judgment,” based on the shop’s ability to deliver compelling work quickly. “The business is incredibly fast-moving, dynamic and changing,” the rep said. “Deutsch is a nimble and passionate partner.”

John Adams, chairman of Interpublic Group’s The Martin Agency, agreed that maintaining relationships with clients after they leave is important, and one reason why the Carfax account returned. “This phenomenon is a reminder that our business isn’t simply about the services delivered but the way those things are delivered,” he said. “That is determined by the people involved.”

When Carfax moved its account to Lowe in 2003 after a review, in which Martin defended, the company “wanted to explore options,” he said. The company was pleased with the work from Lowe, which continues to air, but believed that the Richmond, Va.-based agency best understood the brand. Now, the rep says, “We’ve picked up where we left off. There was no awkward first date.”