THE UNKNOWN ART – AGENCY MANAGEMENT
Before going into the topic, let’s answer the easiest question in the world: why is building client-agency relationship so important? Taking right from the text book, most answers will be because good relationship leads to good work and vice versa (Solomon 2008). For agencies, Client Management is known as the guideline to build good relationship with clients. Unknown to most, clients also have Agency Management to deal with agencies. From here on, Mr. Pham Hai Van – the general director of Wipro Unza Vietnam – will be the tour guide on the journey into client’s perspective.
Spending 20 years in corporation environment, Van has countless experiences in working with ad agency, media house and production house while in big multinational companies like Sony Vietnam Limited, Unilever Vietnam and Wipro Unza. As client’s satisfaction toward agency’s work depends greatly on relationship factor (Wackman, Salmon & Salmon 1986), a vision of an ideal relationship should be defined. An ideal client-agency relationship according to Van has to be a win-win relationship. Van said, “Even as client, it is still no fun in winning alone.” Clients themselves know best that only in a win-win situation, agencies are motivated to deliver the best result.
“So how can they both win in a usually win-lose game?” me – the confused interviewer asked. “Obviously, they have to learn how to play in the same team first”, he answered. “Co-operate and co-create are the magical words”.
“Co-operate” and “co-create” are not only about working together. It also implements the balance of power in client-agency relationship. The phase ‘the client is king’ is no cliché, made up joke. Various studies have shown that the power usually lies in the hands of clients in the client-agency relationships (Michell 1984; Zolkiewski, Burton & Stratoudaki 2008). After all, payers hold power. However, “the tragedy” as Van called happens when power does not go hand in hand with knowledge. Most clients are lack of knowledge about advertising (Chevalier & Catry 1978; Hotz, Ryans & Shanklin 1982). From the client’s side, the marketing team directly works with agency in most case. According to Van, in Vietnamese reality, marketing officers are usually young and inexperienced in dealing with agency. They tend to abuse the authority they have as client and unnecessarily interfere in the creative process. This of course will annoy the creative people. Therefore, good clients are people who know the limit of their own power. Both client and agency have to be able to stand equally on the same ground and equally distribute in maintaining relationship. Basically, Van’s Agency Management is rooted from Client Management, contributes to it and exists to help it go smoothly.
“Good clients are very rare in Vietnam”, Van said with a straight face. “Fortunately, you are talking to one.” A lot of self-confidence is not over-confidence. Below are some tips and existing reasons of Agency Management.
1. Step out of prejudice
Just like how we agency people have stereotypes about clients, they have some about us to. Agencies often think that clients are clueless about creativity. They do not appreciate creativity and only care about cash. Unfortunately, clients just love to command and set unbelievable objectives.
“Not all true, not all false”, my interviewee admitted.
According to Van, clients normally think that agencies do not understand the brand. They care too much about creativity and forget to deliver the marketing objectives. They are “head in the cloud people” who have “no business mind”, thus are the waste of money. Then, it is my turn to admit.
Stereotypes are neither right nor wrong. After all, client is paying for creative work and strategy, thus Van suggested that client should learn and understand the creative nature of agency’s job. Meanwhile, agency also has to accept that client is profit-driven. Accepting each other personalities is important in building relationship.
2. Be inspiring
Client needs to inspire agency throughout the process, starting from a good brief.
“The first thing about a creative brief is….it has to be creative and brief,” the interviewee comically commended.
The creative brief is not the “destination” but the “spring board” of the creative process. A brief is supported to be tight and focused (Solomon 2008). Creative team needs to write from the brief, not to the brief. Thus, client must inspire the team with their creativity first like providing a seed of the creativity tree. Inspiring can also mean enjoying. When clients enjoy the relationship, both sides can feel relaxed and are able to have “fun” with work. Fun is good for creativity. However, inspiration usually comes after client and agency have a rooted partnership and a shared understanding about the brand. As a result, to get client inspiration throughout the process, agency has to constantly build trust toward client.
3. Leaders’ friendship
Poor communications on client’s part has been reported to be one of the major sources in client-agency conflict (Hotz, Ryans & Shanklin 1982). Lack of involvement of client makes it hard for agency to get access to brand’s information that may be helpful in developing creative work. In addition, the low involvement of senior managers from both sides can also be problematic. In reality, both client and agency seems to leave building relationship to junior employees.
Organization’s leaders usually have the final decision in the project. However, agency hardly has the chance to provide service directly to them. With Van’s position, he only participates in important project and leaves smaller ones to marketing team, sometimes also to media team and brand team. In a big corporation, the marketing head only involves in important and decisive stages of the project. A marketing director normally does not show up in meeting for developing creative work. That person may attend the concept presentation and only surely appears when the work is finished and needs approval. Looking at this state, the effectiveness of client management is limited as agency cannot serve the one they need to please the most.
Client notices this limitation and suggests agency to build a top to top relationship. When leaders of both sides are in a pleasant friendship, it is easier for employees to work together. Leaders can create a friendly and creative environment for subordinates by entertain them with parties and small trips.
In the end of the day, both client and agency have to recognize and fix their “bad habits” during the relationship. The using of both Client Management and Agency Management will result in the ideal relationship both sides are yearning for. While saying goodbye to Pham Hai Van, he turned and asked “So do you want to work with me now?”
Proof of life
Chevalier, M & Catry, B 1978, ‘Advertising in France: the advertiser-agency relationship’, European Journal of Marketing, vol. 10, no. 1, pp. 49-59.
Hotz, MR, Ryans, JK & Shanklin, WL 1982, ‘Agency/client relationships as seen by influentials on both sides’, Journal of Advertising, vol. 11, no. 1, pp. 37-44.
Michell, P 1984, ‘Agency – client trends: polarization vs fragmentation’, Journal of Advertising Research, vol. 24, no. 2, pp. 41-52.
Solomon, R 2008, ‘The art of client service: 58 things every advertising & marketing professional should know’, Kaplan Publishing, New York, USA.
Wackman, DB, Salmon, CT & Salmon, CC 1986, ‘DEVELOPING AN ADVERTISING AGENCY-CLIENT RELATIONSHIP’, Journal Of Advertising Research, vol. 26, no. 6, pp. 21-28.
Zolkiewski, J, Burton, J & Stratoudaki, S 2008, ‘The delicate power balance in advertising agency-client relationships: partnership or battleground? The case of the Greek advertising market’, Journal Of Customer Behaviour, vol. 7, no. 4, pp. 315-332.