‘96% of clients believe the design agency market to be ‘crowded and highly competitive’* according to a recent report by Up to the Light. This led me to ponder the eternal question we constantly ask ourselves as an agency, ‘what prompts a client to chose one agency over another?’ And is it the same set of criteria for an agency when choosing to work with a client?
The best design comes from the best relationships. Whether that’s communication, understanding, common sense of purpose or a sense of loyalty. But what constitutes a good relationship is a complex question and is reliant on several factors. Do clients and agencies prioritise these factors based on individual circumstances or is there a special formula that can yield the best results for both sides?
What isn’t in doubt is how crucial it is for Marketeers to ‘get it right’. The right choice of agency can help make the vital difference to a client who wants to meet their goals. So what factors are involved? I think a lot of us in ‘Agency Land’ assume it’s all about the people and the ideas with a large dollop of budget consideration thrown in for good measure. But what’s most important? It led me to ‘ask the experts’, seeking the opinions of some of our clients to see if there was any commonality or clear priorities.
Let’s start with the work. After all, it’s the product itself, the ‘thing’, the stuff at the heart of the matter, and in the creative world that means ideas. Sharry Cramond (EVP, Marketing & Communications, Southeastern Grocers) summed this up brilliantly saying that the “most important thing when choosing an agency is the ideas. The creativity. If nearly 90% of all Marketing is ignored by consumers, then you need disruptive ideas which cut through. Fancy multimedia presentations which cost a fortune don’t matter if there isn’t a brilliant idea in there. An agency could present their creative work on toilet paper for all I care. A brilliant idea is the most important thing”.
Tony Holdway (Sales & Marketing Director, Domino’s Pizza Group) also believes that the quality of the work is crucial – “it’s that eternal conundrum of ‘quality of work & experience’ vs ‘the people and their culture’ when choosing an agency to take you forwards. And of course you definitely want both, but where should the main focus be? It’s got to start with the work hasn’t it? Great people producing average work anyone?! No thanks.” However he then goes on to point out the benefits of great chemistry. After all, true understanding and the ability to communicate clearly form the basis of every relationship. He says “on the other hand, will you ever get to great, effective work if you don’t click with the people? Beyond all that, you’ll need to find an agency that thinks you’re important to them (and vice-versa). Being a small fish in some agency’s large pond is never going to get you the results you require. You’ll need a mutual admiration of each other, that will make you spend more time on the work together – and that will get you the best output & outcome”.
Interestingly, the Up to the Light report states that the primary client expectation from their agency is that they are ‘on time and on budget’. With ‘high quality creative work’ coming in as a secondary factor. So how do clients balance the two? Andy Hill (Insight Director, Samworth Brothers) points out that it’s all around communication, saying “it’s about great creative thinking, real consumer understanding, fabulous people, and value for money… But ultimately, the choice of an agency for a given project comes down to whether or not they’ll help me meet and exceed my goals. And for me that means having a small portfolio of agencies I work with regularly, really knowing their strengths, and great communication to make sure they always know what success looks like on any piece of work”.
So, it seems clients consider many factors when selecting an agency including the work itself, chemistry, budgets, skillset and experience. But what about the other side of the fence? As an agency, we carefully select our clients. Again lots of factors play a part in the selection, but in essence we want to work with great Marketeers who are open to working together to bring about positive change and deliver a real difference.
Ultimately, surely it comes down to brilliant client/agency collaboration to deliver the strongest return? The best results always come from great teamwork. It is after all, a symbiotic relationship. It’s surely the holy grail that every agency is chasing – a relationship based on a collaborative partnership rather than a client/supplier set up – a much more fulfilling and positive experience both financially and creatively for both parties.
* ‘What Clients Think 2016’ report by ‘Up to the Light’
As published on The Drum – 24th October http://www.thedrum.com/opinion/2016/10/24/what-do-clients-look-when-selecting-agency