Tag Archives: client agency relationships

Do Advertisers Value Their Agencies?

4 Aug

client - agency relationshipsThis question came to mind when reading the results of a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Advertising Practitioners in Ireland (IAPI) dealing with the state of the advertising industry.  One of the survey respondents expressed an opinion that clients were “much more aggressive and much less loyal.” Further, the representative from a creative agency stated that clients were “aggressive on cost and expectation and less committed to supporting their agency in their efforts to deliver excellence.” 

Subjectively speaking, many of us involved in the advertising space would likely answer this question with an unqualified “no, not as much as they once did.” 

The reasons for holding such an opinion may be many and varied, but the evidence manifests itself in the fact that client/ agency relationships simply are not as enduring as they once were.  There have been a number of studies conducted over the last half-dozen years which have pegged the average relationship length in the 3 – 5 year range.  If advertisers truly valued their agencies surely this would manifest it in longer, more productive relationships.  Wouldn’t it? 

Once full-service ad agencies “unbundled” this set the stage for advertisers to expand their agency rosters to address their “specialized” marketing needs.   In turn, this created bench strength and ultimately allowed advertisers to more readily re-allocate brand assignments across their stable of agencies, which certainly accounts for some percentage of client/ agency change.  Over time, the notion of transitioning work from one network partner to another became more acceptable and perhaps led advertisers to view going outside of their current agency rosters as less of an issue. 

Change costs.  Whether measured in terms of the time required to effectively transition an agency or the opportunity costs tied to a “new” agency’s learning curve on the business.  This in turn creates risks with regard to an advertiser’s demand generation and market share accretion efforts.  Yet in spite of the cost of change, advertisers continue to change out agencies at an alarming rate.  

One cannot place blame for this trend solely on advertisers.  The actions and behaviors which precipitate the termination of a client/ agency relationship both parties have a shared responsibility.  Similarly, clients and agencies each hold the keys to extending both the length and productivity of their relationship.  It begins with a simple, but powerful concept… mutual respect.  After all “respect” is an important proof point of the extent to which one organization values the contributions and support of another. 

Advertisers can take the lead in this area with a series of simple, yet meaningful processes which will demonstrate the extent to which they value their agency partners:  

  • First and foremost, advertisers can and should align agency compensation with desired agency outputs, measured both in terms of detailed statement of work outputs and the resource commitment required by the agency to deliver on those expectations.  
  • Minimizing project reworks and the number of start / stops in the planning and execution phases of creative and or media development will go a long way to demonstrate the regard in which advertisers hold their agency partners.
  • Look for opportunities to improve the briefing process.  Advertisers who can effectively and succinctly prepare their agency partners at the start of a project provide a huge morale boost for their agencies and greatly enhance the odds of producing great work.
  • Reinforce the fact that as a client, you value the input of your agency partners.  Encourage candid, two-way communication among all stakeholders involved in the Client/ Agency relationship.  To be effective, this concept must extend beyond the annual 360° performance review process.
  • Encourage full transparency when it comes to agency reporting and financial management.  Supplement this with periodic (i.e. quarterly) business reviews so that both sides have a clear understanding of where everything stands, both as it relates to budgets/ project completion as well as with the relationship itself. 
  • Consider rewarding successes with incentive programs tied to the efficacy of the agency’s marketing efforts, using brand relevant milestones as the guideposts (i.e. awareness, sales, market share).

As Henry Ford once said: “Coming together is a beginning.  Keeping together is progress.  Working together is success.” 

Taking these proven steps will go a long way toward demonstrating the extent to which advertisers value their agencies, as well as the respect which they have for the art of crafting and delivering effective marketing communications.  In the end, they can also represent an important building block in extending the length and productivity of their agency relationships. 

Agency Agreements Require Adequate Audit Rights

14 Apr

Advertising Audit is an important financial control process – not an optional luxury.

Any large company conducting business with an advertising agency or media buying firm without comprehensive Audit Rights is simply at risk. The marketing supplier may refuse to cooperate with (or significantly restrict) even very reasonable audit requests.

Based on years of experience and observation, it is clear that a sub par or non-existent audit clause often limits an Advertiser’s ability to implement standard compliance testing which therefore limits their opportunity to validate agency billings and gain comfort. Important learning opportunities are also lost – clearly an undesired outcome.

An example of a healthy financial relationship between parties – there are cases to note where even lacking clear audit documentation, the marketing supplier has complied with audit requests, but these cases are few and far between.

Pushback is a “red-flag.” Good financial practices should have nothing to fear from thorough scrutiny. The more pushback the higher the risk meter should rise.

Verification of billing accuracy / support would seem an innate right of any large company spending millions of dollars with a vendor (yes, even in Marketing).

What should you do? (1) in the near term amend the current Client-Agency Agreement to add a Right to Audit clause – and make it retroactive for at least 3 years; (2) add a Right to Audit clause within an ancillary document such as a Statement of Work (SOW) or an annual amendment to the Master Client-Agency Agreement; or (3) create a new document signed by both parties creating a Right to Audit and adding it to the vendor master file.

Ensure the audit clause is
well-defined and comprehensive.
For a guide, contact AARM at info@aarmusa.com

Once Audit Rights are established, a best practice and preventative control measure is to implement periodic and routine testing to deter wasteful practices, to identify errant billing transactions and to monitor key financial metrics. Testing should be performed at least annually, and always in cases where an agency relationship has been terminated (“transition audit”).

The audit concept also applies to systematic (or continuous) monitoring processes. A systematic monitoring program measures agency financial transactions, reporting and timing against a predetermined set of tolerances. Metrics are compiled and delivered at least monthly to stakeholders. Systematic monitoring is generally performed by an independent third-party with specialized software, and the Advertiser often chooses to share results with the agency – to support incentive compensation goals of and or a basis for behavior modification.

Right to Audit is a necessary safeguard in today’s business environment. Determining a schedule, methodology, and defined approach that encompass at some level each vendor in the organization’s marketing network will provide necessary assurance to management that adequate oversight and preventative controls are in place to catch errors, drive efficiencies and enhance ROI.


Managing Controllable Spending

9 Apr

The ANA recently released the results of its sixth annual spending survey of 250 marketers regarding their 2012 budgets.  Not surprisingly, budgets are not going up much, if at all.  In fact, half of those surveyed indicated that budgets would be flat and one-third stated that budgets would be reduced from prior year levels.  As part of their budget management efforts, more than 8 out of 10 marketers are being asked to “tightly manage” their controllable spending.  Not surprisingly, the focus on controllable expenses is being extended to the organization’s agency partners as well with more than half of those surveyed indicating that they would ask their agencies to cut internal costs.

The not so good news is that some of the categories of expense reduction being targeted ranging from the elimination of employee training and development to shifts in media mix to lower cost media channels can negatively impact a marketer’s effectiveness in the near-term and over the long-haul.

What if there was an option available for a marketer to meet their organization’s budgetary guidelines, without sacrificing their ability to build brands and to profitably drive sales and market share?

It might surprise some to learn that the ability to boost available budget and drive efficiencies is closer than they think.  The answer comes in the form of a contract compliance and performance audit of an organization’s marketing agency partners.  In a majority of client/agency relationships the right to audit is specified within the master services agreement.  However, most marketers don’t avail themselves of this legal provision, which yields both improved financial controls and recoveries while leading to improved agency efficiencies and performance.

When was the last time your organization conducted an agency fee reconciliation or conducted an independent billing reconciliation that included actual versus estimated costs along with 3rd party vendor remittance data?  Have you recently checked to determine whether early pay discounts, annual volume rebates or your pro-rata share of agency group buying discounts were being captured and returned to your organization?  Do you currently review your agency partners’ monthly time-of-staff investment reports?  Reconcile them quarterly?  Engage in dialogue with your agency partners to evaluate ways to streamline processes that can reduce your costs and bolster their margins? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then you could be leaving money on the table.

How much money you ask?  In our experience, it is not uncommon for a compliance audit to yield financial recoveries, future savings and risk avoidance benefits in the 3% to 9% of audited dollar range.  While periodic compliance audits make good legal and financial sense, they can also serve as the impetus to strengthen the client/ agency relationship by establishing and tracking performance criteria while identifying mutually beneficial process improvement opportunities.  Interested in learning more about the ANA survey results? …  Read More

Understanding the Current State in Client/ Agency Relations

26 Jan

The attached article by Avi Dan in Ad Age offers a succinct and accurate summation of the current state of affairs regarding client/ agency relations and the role of procurement.

Once agency leaders and client side marketing individuals take an honest, introspective look at the situation they will be in a much better position to re-establish their position as valued strategic partners. Linking client marketing investment to successful outcomes and building C-suite awareness of marketing’s contributions to the organization’s goals will go a long way in improving confidence in the marketing services supplier network.

This improved confidence, combined with the ability to establish a causal impact of an agency’s contributions on the client’s return on marketing investment will serve as necessary building blocks in distinguishing the agency and optimizing compensation … Read More.

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