Are Agency Relationship Managers a Luxury or Necessity for Advertisers?

26 Jul

madison avenueIn the “good ole” days of full-service ad agencies, 15% commission and powerful, independent ad agency brands… responsibility for an advertiser’s agency relationships was typically limited to a handful of executives within the organization, up to and including the CEO. 

Over the course of the last 30+ years, agencies decoupled, remuneration programs evolved, ad agencies went public, and agency holding companies rose to power and the number of agency partners on a client’s roster have greatly increased.  Unfortunately, as agency rosters grew in breadth and their interaction with client personnel expanded across the organization, there was one area that was overlooked.  Simply, “Who” would be responsible for these important relationships?  Factor in CEO and CMO turnover rates and one can begin to understand why client/ agency relationship lengths are now measured in years rather than decades.   

For those who believe that advertising agencies play vital strategic roles in building and positioning brands for long-term success, driving near-term demand generation and in furthering an advertiser’s understanding of their customer base, agency turnover is a risky and expensive proposition.   

“Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.” ~Alexander the Great 

In order to stabilize client/ agency relationships and to optimize performance across their agency network, many advertisers have invested in the addition of Agency Relationship Management specialists.  Working across an advertiser’s organization to assist Marketing, Procurement, Legal and Finance with the various nuances of effective agency stewardship this position can be a vital component of any supplier relationship management initiative.   

From contracting for agency services to developing remuneration programs and performance evaluation processes to overseeing contract compliance assessments and cost benchmarking audits there is much work that goes into maintaining an effective and efficient marketing supplier network which may include dozens of agencies.  The Agency Relationship Management specialist brings the subject matter expertise to counsel internal stakeholders on industry “Best Practice” and the experience to help shape decisions pertaining to key aspects of the organization’s agency stewardship efforts. 

As importantly, from an agency perspective, this position can and should serve as an advocate and an ombudsman providing an objective perspective when it comes to resolving issues or mediating disagreements.  By further providing unambiguous, consistent two-way communication between the partners and their respective stakeholders coupled with the establishment of clear expectations regarding agency performance the odds of building strong, enduring relationships are greatly enhanced.

This service can either be maintained internally at the client (by appropriate personnel with both broad and deep advertising experience – client and agency side) or the service can be outsourced to a select qualified and dedicated specialist or group. 

For those advertisers who view their agencies as partners rather than vendors, and who want to foster increased involvement, contribution and interactivity, a strong case can be made for the addition of the Agency Relationship Manager role.  Responsibilities would entail being the “hub” of all things related to agency stewardship, developing a marketing agency database cataloging all aspects of the client/ agency relationship and agency performance, disseminating information to all stakeholders and sharing industry “Best Practice” insights on this important area.  It is a role which requires a tremendous amount of patience and tact, but one where the value provided far outweighs the salary investment outlay required to improve an organization’s agency stewardship and financial management practices. 

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