Are Agencies and Clients Hearing Each Other?
Published in May-Jun 2022
I am a creative who has experienced both the agency and the brand side of life, thanks to which I have developed an understanding of both sides. (Every day I am still learning something new on the brand side.) My head of department sometimes jokes with me that I have started to think more like a brand manager rather than a hardcore creative. While this may be looked upon as something negative among agency folks, I take it as a compliment.
The Brief and Agency
For great work to happen, the most important thing is that both the client and the agency are on the same page – something which during my agency career I rarely saw happen. Many times, the brief is ambiguous, leaving a great deal of room for interpretation. This is where the role of client services matters the most. A good account manager will ask the right questions that will help the client provide critical information.
I once saw an agency brief form which asked, “What does success look like? An increase in sales? More footfall? More top of mind awareness? Increased user-generated content?” This is why the client servicing role is critical. Account managers are not dispatchers or middlemen. They are business partners and should act as the representatives of the brand inside the agency. They have to ensure their questions are heard by the client and the client must respond to them. It is said that ‘people skills’ and ‘handling pressure’ are the most important skills an account manager should have. Yet, although they are significant, even more important is having an understanding of the client’s business model, including the challenges and opportunities.
David Ogilvy’s Rolls-Royce print ads were literally a statement made by a Rolls-Royce engineer: “At 60 miles an hour, the loudest noise in this new Rolls-Royce comes from the electric clock.” Agencies and clients should prioritise knowledge sharing. Agencies should inform clients about relevant communication trends, audience research, innovative execution formats and best practice global campaigns case studies. The client should provide sufficient information to enable the agency creatives to think like creative brand managers.
It is often said that “knowledge is power” and it is absolutely true that the knowledge of the brand and the industry it operates in empowers the creative process. By knowledge, I mean not only knowledge about the target audience, but about the business dynamics, processes and the SWOT analysis. This is critical because it helps the creative department approach their ideation through a practical lens.
For example, if the product development team has plans to go eco-friendly in the next two years, the agency should know about this in order to begin evolving their communication tone. As a personal example, I know the shoe industry much better now than I did when I was working on the agency side, despite the fact that I had worked for two separate shoe brands at two different agencies. Ideally, agency teams should spend at least a day every month at the offices of their clients. They should visit the factories/production units every quarter and once in a while visit the brand’s outlets to conduct covert research on the customers. Clients and agencies should have a relationship whereby the agency understands the brand team’s challenges and are keener on helping their client achieve their business objectives rather than adding golden stars on their personal resumes.
Relationships are built on trust. Many agencies, from the moment they make their pitch, depict themselves as utopian solution providers backed by a team of superstars solely dedicated to meeting the communication requirements of the brand. This is the moment when these agencies put their own trust in jeopardy. Believe me, the client knows the truth. They know how long it takes to complete a job, so when the account manager says that it is time-consuming, they know just how much time is required. This only serves to damage the trust between the two and, in worst-case scenarios, often leads to hostility. If agencies want their work to be taken seriously, they need to develop and strengthen the trust they have with their clients. Trust leads to respect and respect leads to valuing each other’s opinions, creating a win-win situation for both parties.
Muneeb Akram is an in-house creative at NDURE.
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