How ad agency relationships have changed
By David MacGregor, January 2011
Stable relationships are a rare thing in agency-land
I was a late bloomer. It took almost all my angst-ridden teenage years to accomplish anything even approximating an adult-ish relationship with a girl (sadly, my contemporaries and I had nothing like a contemporary young person’s guide to pubescent, tumescent longing or coming of age like that cinematic classic American Pie). My rubbishness at relationships persisted through my adult life. If you doubt me, canvass my ex-wives and the significant others who never quite managed to qualify for a pension at my expense following the parting of our ways.
So it is with no small irony that I have found myself in a long-term relationship with the business of advertising— which, at its heart (as we are discussing matters of the heart), is all about relationships of one kind or another.
Those who concern themselves with the crafting of the persuasive messages are the Lotharios of the advertising world. For them it is the seduction that matters most.
Account managers are cast from a different mould. They are the stabilising influence who having wooed clients must husband them through the complexities of planning and giving birth to campaigns.
Perhaps it is simply a sign of the times but the nature of agency/client relationships has changed significantly in the past several years. The days of exclusive agency contracts seem to be as quaint as George and Mildred.
Marketers have as little loyalty to advertising agencies as their customers have for their brands.
Promiscuity seems to bear a direct corelationship, if you will indulge the pun, with prevailing technology. Digital technology has made promiscuity so much easier for clients than ever before.
Not so long ago, divorcing one’s advertising agency was a wrenching process, made awkward in part by the messy handing over of files, artwork, transparencies (if you don’t know what they are, ask a grownup) and other clutter that went with a big account. I’m not saying that it is now less fraught than it once was, particularly for the former incumbent—just that the utilitarian process of change is considerably easier when it is weightless. There are still the tears and grieving to get through before throwing one’s self back onto the dating scene. Just ask TBWA or Saatchi & Saatchi. Bank on it.
The global financial crisis (gotta love those catchy acronyms for things we prefer not to utter aloud: GFC … KFC …) has played a part in changing attitudes among agencies and clients. There is a willingness to throw one’s keys into the bowl. But just for a project, mind. Our marriage is sound, it’s just that variety brings back a little excitement.
A tendency to view everything as a project is also a function of today’s market. A planning model that consists of leaping from one lily pad to the next is common. The horizons are short and consumers are fickle.
Marketers are applying a triage-like model, assigning resources to the most urgent needs first. This might mean forming relationships with low-risk suppliers like sales promotion, direct marketing and masthead marketing firms to generate sales, rather than over-commit to longer term strategic brand issues.
So long as no harm is done in the short term, the approach seems to make sense—akin to not looking for Mr Right, just Mr Right Now.
David MacGregor is a cofounder of Idealog and creative director, brand product development at BrandWorld. Follow him on Twitter: @joegreenz
Originally published in Idealog #31, page 115