Clients versus Agencies Round One Results: Clients 1 – Agencies 0 … and why some independent mediation may be required

sir-clive-woodward-via-Wales-online

Clive Woodward … Coach supremo – it will make sense later on (pic via WalesOnline)

something of a war or words seems to have broken out on the pages of Adnews of late. on one hand we have David Morgan of Nestlé (let’s call him the ‘client’) and on the other a range of voices including Leigh terry of Omnicom Media Groupe, Travis Day of Vizeum and Peter Grenfell of VCCP (let’s call them the agencies).

here’s a few samples of the debate:

“We’re getting stuck in the middle, stuck in operations, stuck in process management … we’re spending so much time doing things that are not core to our trade of marketing, that it’s taken up our ability to do our trade of marketing. Today, our guys are managing eight, nine, 10 different agency groups – digital groups, media groups, creative groups, strategy groups. It takes up a lot of time to talk to them, coordinate them, project manage them.”

David Morgan, Nestlé director of corporate communications and marketing services, speaking at ADMA Conference two weeks ago

“Managing relationships is easier when agencies are treated as strategic partners … modern agencies of all disciplines are recognising this and pouring significant effort into ensuring that they have a partnership role with all clients; that they are trusted advisor and, most importantly that their reporting and admin are streamlined”

Travis Day, general manager of Vizeum Melbourne

“Agencies can be guilty of getting caught up in their own world … agencies need to open up and be more collaborative with each other. Creative agencies need to not be sniffy because they lead the strategy and media agencies need to not be sniffy because they hold all the money.”

Peter Grenfell, MD VCCP

it’s been an interesting debate not just because it comes at a time when tensions across a whole range of agency / client issues are coming to the fore – remuneration and transparency, the pitch merry-go-round and the protection and respect of IP, and most recently the time and agency effort spent on entering awards – but also because there doesn’t seem to be any kind of logical or constructive response or solution to Morgan’s assertion.

the frustrations on both sides or more than understandable. unfortunately (or fortunately depending on your POV) media went and fragmented. fact.

non of which is new news … back in 2008 I wrote a piece as part of my IPA Excellence Diploma (module three if you’re wondering) in response to the question: what approach should a client take in terms of who does communications planning on a brand? my observation at the time was that the agency response to “media fragmentation … has been twofold. Firstly, diversification into a multitude of different and varied operations; secondly, generalisation …historically all props had to do was scrummage; now they expect themselves to run, catch, pass and lift in the line-out too”

I know … I resorted to a sporting analogy, but bear with me.

I explored the idea that the players (agencies) on the pitch were now so diverse and the necessary roles so specialised that coordination was a full time job (the latter point was perhaps the very one that David Morgan was making at the ADMA conference that sparked this debate). it seemed to me at the time that there were to solutions, the client coordinates or the agencies do, and observed flaws with each:

“One, individual agencies can never know enough about other disciplines to ensure communications planning they derive consider every perspective. It’s like asking prop-forward to plan a game strategy incorporating the nuances of the role of fly-half; the knowledge required is too broad and getting broader all of the time.

Two, Buckminster Fuller’s principle: “If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail” (as quoted in John Grant’s After Image). A player will never take themselves off the pitch; the very concept that any one agency can comprehensively and without bias write comms planning that excludes themselves is fundamentally compromised.” (source)

I suggested that there was a third way. that some clients may want to employ a coach (and the sporting analogy is complete) who is neutral, independent and can coordinate and allocate roles and responsibilities for agencies whilst the client focuses on marketing and ultimately business objectives.

as Clive himself said:

“My role isn’t to do players’ jobs for them. My job is to ensure that every player performs to their potential and as part of a team”.

Clive Woodward, BBC Interview

that sound’s like exactly the kind of role we need to me.

it’s perhaps not entirely right for every client, and there are flaws – not least of which is that its another outsourced role and relationship for a client to manage; but its a constructive suggestion … and I can’t help but observe that some of the agency response to Morgan’s challenge is at best smart observation of the problem, and at worst a claim (bordering on a whine) that agencies aren’t respected enough as ‘strategic partners’.

I fear that statements like “Creative agencies need to not be sniffy because they lead the strategy” do less rather than more to win the respect of a client who posed a reasonable and clearly present issue to the agency community.

this round’s result: Clients 1 – Agencies 0

we explore this is a ton of depth on last week’s PHDcast which you can enjoy listening to here:

player not working? click here to listen on Audioboo

featured image is Clive Woodward (the coach, gettit) via WalesOnline

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s