Skip to content

Solving the Agency/Client Stalemate

Agency/client tensions are not a new phenomenon. They have existed as long as there have been agencies and marketers. And now, with CMO tenures still at abysmal lows and loyalty to agencies still in flux, it’s difficult to determine who is responsible for addressing industry issues: the agency or the marketer?

The problem is that the tensions that existed back in the day were relatively short-lived: The agency created the campaign. The client didn’t like the campaign. The agency and the client argued over the campaign. The client got his way, and the agency thought that the client was a dope for picking the “wrong” campaign. Over and out. Campaigns were produced and run, and then it was on to the next client. A new year rolled around, and we did it all again.

Today, unfortunately, we are in a cycle that produces a constant stream of tension. Every day is a new “campaign.” Every day there’s a new measurement goal, new messaging and new changes to the campaign.

The industry is dealing with a daily barrage of information about the performance of everything on a marketer’s radar: What are consumers saying on social media? Which ads are performing the best online? How many Facebook fans do we have? Are we maximizing our spending on programmatic marketing? What is programmatic marketing, anyway? Oh, and now I’m hearing in the press that there’s online media fraud. Is this happening to me? Does my agency know anything about this? Are they duping me? And while all of this is happening, both marketers and agencies are being asked to do more with less. This only exacerbates the tensions.

So what do we do to break the vicious cycle of agency/client tensions? Agencies need to change.

Recently, people have asked me what “the agency of the future” looks like. Someone asked me if agencies will even exist. My response was this: As long as there are products and services to market, agencies will exist. All of these marketers can keep bringing the agency function in-house, but frankly, they’re doing themselves a disservice. This is not the solution to the problem.

Think about it: They did not get into the business to be great creators of ads. They got into the business of smartly manufacturing and marketing a product. It’s as if I were trying to own the building in which we run our company. I have enough on my plate. I don’t need to have the headaches that my landlord has. I have my own business challenges that I need to stay focused on.

The same holds true for marketers and agencies, but in order for the tension to subside, agencies need to recognize that they are the service providers and marketers are buying their services. And because it happens that way, the agencies have to do most of the changing. They need to become part researcher, part inventor and part technologist.

I tell my agency clients that they all basically do the same stuff: They create ads. Yes, some are more creative than others, but at the end of the day, that’s not what marketers are buying. They’re buying smarts, proactive thinking and intelligent strategy—and a forward-looking view of the marketing and advertising world.

If agencies continue to plod down the path of sameness—in structure, in thinking, in responding to the demands of the market and their clients—they will be eaten up by other agencies that have adjusted their way of thinking.

While tensions will always exist, somebody needs to take the lead to relieve them. And like it or not, agencies, the onus falls on you.

Mark Sneider is owner and president of Cincinnati-based business development firm RSW/US.