True partnerships are hard to find

True partnerships are hard to find

Client/agency relationships are getting shorter and trust has been strained.

"Clients and agencies" has been the vernacular of Campaign and the ad industry for as long as I can remember, with all the implied transactional powerplay of master/mistress and servant played out many times over the years.

Now, Publicis. Sapient’s Nigel Vaz, the new IPA president, wants to "change the relevance of agencies to clients – to establish us as partners for growth". Vaz makes a powerful case for a relationship built on shared goals and rewards, rooted in fair payment for proven results.

It’s an excellent ambition but a long way from where most agencies now find themselves. Client/agency relations are getting shorter, trust (on both sides, but particularly with media agencies) has been strained, agency appointments are often made at an international level with little regard for local client/agency chemistry, agency remuneration has been squeezed. As a result of all of this and more, marketers and agencies are too often locked into short-lived, price-led contracts that have little to do with mutual, sustainable gain and business growth.

The loyalty, respect, trust and shared risk and reward of the true partnership is hard to find in the ad industry now. If you’d asked me a few months ago, I’d have said Audi and Bartle Bogle Hegarty was one example. Ever since John Hegarty uncovered the "Vorsprung durch technic" line on a fading poster on the factory wall in Ingolstadt in 1982, brand and agency have grown together, with BBH making some of its finest work for the car brand and Audi growing to become one of the world’s leading car marques.

Now Audi’s procurement department has called a pitch and BBH is competing against rival agencies in a protracted process expected to last into next year. Yes, when a good procurement department gets involved in a pitch it can enhance the marketing decision-making, helping set parameters for a successful relationship. But when the pitch is led by procurement, the end result is almost certainly focused on cost not a rounded business partnership.

If agencies want to command a partnership with marketers, then they need to start by respecting themselves and walking away from bad deals. Bravo to all those agencies that decided the procurement-led Audi pitch isn’t for them. It’s a start.

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