Do Agency Brands Still Matter?

27 Aug

agency brandsTimes have changed. In 1984 the average client agency relationship lasted 7.2 years. Ironically, while that may seem like a short duration, by 1997 it had declined to 5.3 years. Where do you believe it is today? Gone are the days when the advertising agency relationship was so esteemed that advertiser CEO’s were often on point for managing what was viewed as an invaluable resource. Advertising agencies once measured the span of their client involvement in decades and prided themselves on the longevity of those relationships. Unfortunately, transience has supplanted stability as the law of the land.

CEOs are seldom involved with the organization’s agency network, the Marketing function has lost some of its luster within the executive suite and according to a 2010 Spencer Stuart study, CMO’s turnover every 28 months on average. On the agency side, as holding companies greatly expanded their collection of traditional agency brands and specialty shops many with overlapping and often indistinct resource offerings the cache of the individual agency nameplates began to diminish. Add to this the trend that has emerged in numerous high profile agency reviews of the holding company offering to assemble a team of subject matter experts from across its network to serve up a “Best in Class” solution to the prospective client. While this approach certainly has appeal, on paper, aggregating professionals from companies with different cultures, philosophies, perspectives and processes has seldom proved to be the elixir advertisers and agencies alike have sought. Remember Enfatico?

Agency brands should matter, perhaps more so in today’s environment than at any time in the past. Whether they do or don’t is not what is at issue. The asset value of a strong agency brand to its diverse stakeholders can be significant. It starts with instilling a sense of belonging with the agency’s associates, which in turn leads to a feeling of pride and a passion for the work which they do, which drives employee satisfaction and reduces turnover.  Enhancing agency employee tenure is an important component in acculturating associates into the agency’s philosophy and belief systems, driving familiarity with advertising planning and development processes and creating a level of comfort and confidence among the client facing representatives with the agency’s solutions offering.  Stability and consistency in this area can greatly enhance the agency’s ability to achieve in-market success for client brands, which can transcend the environment of change and emphasis on short-term results that often permeates client-side organizations. Importantly, strong brands attract buyers.

Brands attract buyers based upon a known set of attributes which help to shape buyer expectations of what they’re getting, minimizing unexpected surprises and reducing buyer remorse. Clients that are satisfied with the agencies that their organization has bought into will invest the requisite time, energy and resources into those relationships, thus heightening the odds of success.

In the end, success, however each party in the client-agency relationship defines it is the key to rejuvenating individual agency brands and helping to stabilize a somewhat unsettled marketplace. As David Ogilvy once said; “The pursuit of excellence is less profitable than the pursuit of bigness, but it can be more satisfying.” I would contend that once excellence is achieved, profits will follow. One needs to look no further than average agency direct margins today vis-à-vis ten, fifteen or thirty years ago to prove that point.

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