Does client conflict still exist in the age of consultancies and McDonald's?

Conflict is going extinct and McDonald's just proved it.

Advertising is a consultancy business; it works deeply and intimately with its clients to understand their business problems and it delivers to them effective and powerful creative-led business solutions.

Yet, unlike its consultancy friends, it has historically suffered greatly with conflict. If you’re an auditor or management consultant, or a combination of the two, you don’t worry about this at all. And neither do your clients. There is a general understanding that working with the best in the business is beneficial for all. It’s as if consultants are seen to have "smart magical insight", whereas an agency’s opinion is deemed to be of less value, being mistakenly put in the "creative only" category. 

Nearly all of the world’s big clients use one of Deloitte, EY, KPMG or PwC to do their auditing. Auditing means, or should mean, that you know where the bodies are buried. Far more intimate details of a company’s workings than an ad agency is ever likely to have knowledge of. But the assumption is that such knowledge remains confidential.

The same is more or less true of the big consultancies. If you want Deloitte or McKinsey & Company, that’s where you’ll go, even if they work for one or more of your competitors. Accenture has started making big strides in advertising, yet it claims to work for three-quarters of the world’s top companies – client conflict certainly hasn’t hindered it from growing a multibillion-dollar business.

So why has conflict always been a big issue for the advertising industry? It seems that the answer is always "the clients don’t like it". But is that still true? Do modern clients care as much as the advertising industry thinks it does? Conflict has been an issue since the first ad agencies opened on Madison Avenue. But isn’t the industry holding itself back by still considering clients’ views in this way? Don’t all brands just want the best work by the best people? 

It seems like McDonald’s does. It was interesting to learn that it recently appointed Wieden & Kennedy New York to be its lead creative agency. Congratulations to W&K – you’re on a roll. But double congratulations to McDonald’s for selecting an agency that boasts KFC as one of its core clients. But why did McDonald’s do it? 

With chief marketing officers more and more focused on ROI and managing a vast array of intricate digital channels, their need for deep and specialist experience may far outweigh their desire for agency exclusivity. According to the news reports on the win, W&K was chosen for its "strong strategic and creative output and successful track record in developing provocative content to develop relationships between customers and well-known brands including Nike, Bud Light, Coca-Cola (for Sprite and Vitamin Water) and Delta". 

There is a signature way of working at W&K that clearly caters for the very specific needs of this market, target audience and brand engagement experience. Colin Mitchell, McDonald’s senior vice-president of global marketing, told trade media: "Globally, we are trying to evolve our creative, like the rest of the customer experience. This move allows us to push our vision for modern marketing in this very important market."

Brands are innovating, so why are we still holding ourselves to outdated tradition? There is no real reason why two competitive brands should not work with the same creative agency. From a client perspective, you’re getting access to top creative and strategic agency talent with intimate knowledge and experience of both your industry and consumers. From an agency perspective, it enables you to attract the very best talent, build deep expertise and invest for the long term.

Client conflict situations are very easily managed. Agencies understand client sensitivities and they are very competent in dealing with the intricacies surrounding confidential client data. All clients need great creativity. They may be more capable now than ever of hyper-targeting in-house, but what they can gain from an agency are overarching specialist creative skills, specific sector experience and a proven track record of impact and results that they cannot typically recreate in-house. 

A new disruptive approach that abandons old-school fears will liberate agencies to grow and help clients get the best results for their business needs.

David Patton is global president, customer experience and advertising, at Technicolor, which owns The Mill and MPC

Picture: Getty Images

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