The Summer Project Worth Doing: How Advertising Agencies Keep Current Clients

May 18, 2017 | Lorraine Stewart


Advertising agencies focus a lot of their energy on the pursuit of shiny new accounts. Yet smart agencies also invest effort in protecting the relationships and revenue they enjoy from their current clients. Nobody likes to feel like they are taken for granted.

Scenarios where big accounts change their agencies, revise compensation or move to multi-agency models can pose devastating surprises for the incumbent agencies that have helped build their clients’ businesses over long periods of time.

As leading advertising industry consultants, we see a variety of underlying reasons behind the continual change in client-agency relationships. To distill, companies change ad agencies for two primary reasons: to source additive capability (e.g., digital marketing) or to resolve a problem with their current advertising agency. Most marketing leaders appreciate that while the transition to new marketing models may be necessary, the change of advertising agency partner can be risky, disruptive and expensive.

Can advertising industry churn be prevented?

Both clients and agency leaders can use the summertime to evaluate the client-agency relationship and the quality of work. Clients will embrace the invitation to air any underlying dissatisfaction and state future needs. A client-agency relationship review, with mutual conversation and a facilitated process, allows agencies to suggest better ways of working together so leaders can understand their own organization inefficiencies and target productivity improvement. For example, agencies can ask their clients to provide feedback in a way that hones in on understanding and documenting the advertising agency’s highest value contributions to those companies. Agency leaders can then work to secure their position, and expand their services from this position of strength.

A client-agency relationship review allows leaders to respond to percolating problems. Current concerns, however mundane or political, are red flags to be acknowledged and addressed asap. It’s is the best defense against the pressure on clients to fire and hire again, a disruptive pattern in our fickle industry.

Here are four approaches to take to this summer:

1. Apply Fresh Paint

Take the time to evaluate the current work and ways of working to identify areas of meaningful change. Use relevant data to capture and then merchandise positive results from a client’s previous advertising spend. Beyond campaign performance, look specifically at the 3 Ps: people, process and projects.

Stuck in the status quo? ask the newbie or a gen x intern to come up with some fresh, outside the box thinking.

Strategic, intentional change gives longstanding clients a sense of renewed commitment and vitality from their agency suppliers. Timing is everything! New solutions and business-building programs need to be scoped and presented before the upcoming 2018 budget season. Required changes or additions to staff can be set in motion quickly. Process improvements should be a way of life.

2. Pulling Weeds

Client-agency conflict happens. The process of problem solving and conflict resolution can be transformative, producing innovative solutions and stronger relationships.

Growing advertising agencies apply their innate critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity skills to work on fresh ways of improving the delivery of agency services in real time. Often the best ideas for better client service come from the front lines. Clients too can invest time in exploring in what ways they contribute to or detract from the quality of work from their advertising agencies; hint: decision-making and approval processes.

3. DIY or Pro?

Sometimes it’s fun to take on a summer DIY project. Or at least we think it is! More often than not, we (ahem, I) start something and then realize that it’s better to hire a professional.

Engaging a qualified advertising industry consultant to facilitate a client-agency performance review sounds a bit intimidating. We don’t want to fix what we don’t think is broken. Or invite an outsider in. Yet facilitated client-advertising agency evaluation is needed to produce better outcomes, good for both parties. A client-agency relationship review requires trust, good judgement, external perspective and a measure of creativity for proposed changes to stick. Proven turnkey processes also make it painless. And those client-agency compensation issues that feel a bit too thorny to get into are a bit like my summer rose garden; they too need our attention for things to thrive.

4. Invite People Over

Feeling a bit less formal? Take a break from the task orientation of the current to do list or emails waiting and shift focus onto people ~ at all levels of the client organization. People = talent. Ad agencies seeking to shore up client relationships might expand their overall resource network, inviting outsiders in to build a wide and collaborative group of experts. For example, create an industry-specific advisory board, identify new alliance partners, or try some personal networking to connect people to each other. Doing so brings value to your clients.

Clients can do their part too and can refer new business prospects to their agencies to boost the agency’s financial viability. It’s easy to thank people individually, organically affirming the positive behaviors that you appreciate.

Client Agency Relationship Review

Both advertisers and agencies can do a culture check to make sure they are tending to the dynamic of a healthier environment for their own people to work, often reducing employee turnover as a result. Clear definition of the operating principles and core value systems as to what is most valued will allow employees participating in any company or agency culture to either align and commit, or bow out.

These efforts increase your social currency within any organization and protect the base.

And the Livin’ is Easy

For advertising agencies and advertisers alike, now is a perfect time to recommit to a stronger future with your partners. For advertising agencies, investing resources to lock in the loyalty of current clients is critical to future growth and business development. For marketing leaders, tending to your agency partner or full roster of advertising agencies, and improving the ways in which you work with them, is the precursor to a successful, results-oriented year ahead.