The Right and Wrong of Agency Reviews

by admin

Reviewing the agency/client relationship should be a routine event that occurs during everyday business-to-business contacts. To suddenly throw open the doors to all comers and put your advertising agency on notice that their hard work, creativity, and loyalty mean nothing can be a disastrous mistake with repercussions no one intended and certainly no one wanted. But by the time you realize this, it may already be too late….

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Remember that to achieve great advertising takes an extraordinary agency and a great client. Without those two elements nothing great will happen. The agency always has more than one client. The client is feeling pressure from multiple sources as well. The agency/client relationship can be full of potential problems unless there is trust. Trust comes from familiarity and time together. It’s pretty simple. If the agency is taken for granted, its focus shifts to clients who are more encouraging. If the client is neglected, then its focus shifts as well. With shifting focus, the account relationship staggers blindly into the ditch. Whose fault? It takes two to tangle, and tango.

There are many wrong reasons to conduct a review:

• When the agency is doing a bad job and you want to slap their hands.
• To compare your current agency to some new suitors who have been persistent
• Because your sales went down.
* Because a new team on the client side has taken over
• Because someone believes the agency is making too much money
•  Just to see if you are getting “the best of the best” from your current agency

There is only one right reason to conduct a review:

• To continuously improve the performance of the advertising agency and the agency/client relationship. This will lead to a better advertising agency more surely than anything else you can do. It could result in a change in agencies, but not usually and not as a first option. If it does lead to an agency change, then some things were allowed to get out of hand long before the review was called. There is plenty of blame on both sides of the equation when this happens.

There are two forms of agency reviews: formal and informal. The informal is just that: an informal spot check from time to time, with a pre-arranged agenda with a discussion of how things are going. The other, more useful, review is a formal review. This is a formal review of the relationship done once or twice a year. If there is a contract, this should be part of it. Both sides should be evaluated and be part of the evaluating. For the agency there can be impediments to productivity that need discussion: delays in approval; changes, changes and more changes; sudden deadlines; and difficulty in reaching the client for important project discussions and updates, to mention a few. For the client there can be frustrations: long delays in creative unveiling; sloppy first passes, out of control costs, lack of communication, and lack of results, to mention a few. Regular discussion of these sorts of topics, with open give-and-take, can head off big problems that accumulate in conflict averse situations. Regular reviews legitimize the positive and supportive critiques that lead to solutions and maintaining a highly-productive relationship between a qualified and willing advertising agency and a client who wants to achieve quality in all things.

For the client, a proper and regular evaluation will:

(1) clarify and prioritize the services that they want and keep fresh the way the client likes things to go;
(2) help clarify and assess the role being played in the relationship by the client’s own people and provide an early warning system for problems brewing;
(3) keep the lines of communication open between the people who originally created the relationship and offer a chance to keep that partnership fresh;
(4) identify wasteful areas of interaction and help the agency and client judge what is important and what is not;
(5) de-stress the relationship and create a more stable one that the client can continue to have confidence in.

For the agency, a proper and regular evaluation will:

(1) help to maintain a close and understanding relationship with the client;
(2) constantly inform the agency where they stand with the client and allow time for correction of problems before they get out of hand;
(3) provide a forum for expectations and airing of difficulties;
(4) allow the agency an opportunity to comment on strengths and weakness in the relationship that they see and to discuss impediments to creativity and, more importantly, the areas of strengths that allow for quality work to occur.

A review should be a time to express friendship, gratitude and to plan for the future. Reviews are only life and death meetings when both sides have failed miserably. So, invest in success and review regularly, informally or informally as best suits your relationship. Remember, a good agency in hand is worth a hundred in the bush. Most advertising agencies have terrifically creative people and knowledgeable production and service teams. The average lifespan of an advertising agency/client today is under five years. It should be over 15 years. Imagine a long-term relationship with a creative team that knows you and your company and continuously turns out top-quality, effective marketing at very reasonable rates.

Our internal slogan has always been, “Our best clients get our best work.” Better handling of the agency/client relationship will ensure that you become one of the best clients at your agency. When you think of that as important, you are on the right path.

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