What True Partnership Means in the Agency/Client World

At its most basic, this is what the industry consists of: agencies on the service side, clients on the served side. The existence of these two sides that work together seem to signal a relationship, and from there, we tend to interpret this as a partnership.

Not so fast.

The relationship is a incredibly more nuanced. Complex. No two scenarios are alike. At a minimum, agencies operate based on the agreement set forth at the beginning of the relationship, and this “scope” dictates what the agency and the client are each responsible for in order for the business relationship to work for both parties. This is necessary, but not sufficient.

Clients always push agencies to be accountable. They seek performance as they receive internal pressures from the corporate leadership to perform on certain metrics. These metrics are intended to lead to one thing: increase in profits. From strategy to tactic, this goal is translated into key metrics, but along the way, it is transformed into a variety of things. More often than not, we lose sight of the goal and we hold on with our dear lives to these “KPIs,” which have shifted from “key objective” to empty metrics.

Nowadays, we hear about the tension about data ownership. Who owns consumer data? The client who serve these consumers? The agency who facilitate in the data collection? Both parties? One of the biggest issues I’ve seen across agencies is when clients, especially those who have a more conservative culture, guard important data (such as sales) from its agencies. This is one of the classic signs that while a relationship exists, a true partnership is ways away.

If clients require communications efficiency and performance from its agencies, they need to liberate data. Agencies need access to this in order to analyze the effectiveness of the communications they deliver. They have the inputs but have no way of understanding how these influence outputs that lead to the goal (increase in sales/revenues/profits, etc). From the clients’ perspective, there is a separate group that handles all data, and this could be an internal team or third-party team responsible for marketing mix modeling.

What clients don’t realize these days is that agencies are much more than just entities buying media at scale. They have teams that are staffed with bright, quantitative minds who are calculating advertising effectiveness and optimization across platforms, and are taking on projects that match advertising with sales, particularly with clients who are more forward-thinking and have started to see their agency as a data partner as much as they are a branding/communications expert. When clients do this, agencies become more accountable and are pushed to deliver even greater results for the client, helping that client win internally infront of corporate management.

This is the way of agency/client relationship in the future; one that is founded on a true partnership rather than based on a precarious relationship strung only by the elements present in the scope of work agreement.


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