April 1, 2009

How Agencies Rate Clients

Filed under: Client/Agency Relations — Joe Grant @ 1:22 pm


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News Flash: “Agencies Rate Clients Poorly in New Study!”


Link to the report below for details, but here’s the Twitter-sized summary:

client communication & briefs weaken, compensation structures getting worse; fees shrink –  agencies resent clients more, outlook lousy. suxs!!

My take

The study tells me there’s a lot of resentment out there and it’s building, due no doubt to the tightening financial noose clients seem to have their agencies in. That’s not all the clients’ fault, it’s true; quarter-to-quarter performance pressure on advertisers these days is brutal. No surprise they demand more for less.

But what they’re getting is less for less.

You know how it is – there are a couple of clients you’d do anything for just because of how they treat you. These may not be the biggest in the house, but because they’re good folks who treat you fairly (including reasonable compensation) you respond in kind. Meantime, resentment builds for the others, the penny-pinching nit-pickers who evidence only the smallest understanding of the basics of communication and marketing.

Hey, I’ve got strong feelings about how destructive it is when your agency mocks and derides clients behind their backs (See My Client is a Jerk).  So I’m not advocating harboring impure thoughts about clients.

But think about the vicious cycle for a moment. Agencies disrespect their clients so the work they do for them suffers; clients know they’re not getting the best so they demand more; but they want it for less because their budgets have been scalped; since they aren’t getting good stuff their sales suffer; they fault the agency. Next stop: divorce court as they look for a more “creative” or “accountable” shop.

It’s Not Just About Money

Buried in the “Agencies Rate Clients Poorly” study is reference to relatively junior client-types now doing more of the briefings. Help!

Project success turns on the quality of the briefing, for God’s sake. How many times have you been briefed by a junior level functionary only to return later with concepts, or worse, campaigns, and have them immediately trashed by a senior decision-maker who’s now in the room.  Don’t these people talk to each other?

As companies continue to ax the very veterans agencies need on the client side, people who actually know something about advertising, marketing, integration, audiences, etc. get replaced by energetic young puppies. Bright, dedicated, to be sure – but not fully baked. Buckle up for a long bumpy learning curve.

It’s all backwards, isn’t it. Years ago I remember at an Association of National Advertisers conference hearing the head of advertising for Chevrolet say, “We want to pay our agencies more than our competitors pay theirs” so they could hire better people and thus produce better work. Which would in turn would sell more cars.

That’s not a hard concept to grasp. But alas, things are certainly not being done that way now.

Just ask the guys on auto row trying to sell lots-full of Chevys.


[There’s a good summary of the report with colorful charts ‘n graphs at “A Global Voice for Marketing Agency Leaders“.  And for a comparison from the clients’ point of view, see “How Advertisers Value Agencies“]

Now Your 2 Cents

How can agencies reverse this trend? What can you change in your agency to try to overcome these issues? Will you share the Scan report with your clients to start a conversation about improving things? Please comment below.



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