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McCann Worldgroup

How to unpick the client-agency relationship

Up for the debate: (from left to right) McCann Worldgroup’s Nannette LaFond-Dufour, Suzanne Powers and Rob Reilly
Up for the debate: (from left to right) McCann Worldgroup’s Nannette LaFond-Dufour, Suzanne Powers and Rob Reilly

Key members of McCann Worldgroup's leadership team and Campaign US's editor prepare to discuss the big issues in Cannes

Do clients want the credit for their agencies’ work? Are agencies too shy when it comes to claiming the limelight? And does Campaign have a responsibility to achieve balance, or does it instead fuel discord in the industry?

Woof (as the French might say). Big questions. Over the next week, Cannes’ La Croisette will be crawling with adlanders looking for insights, answers, awards and a drink.

On a Campaign stage on The Grand Hotel Lawn, senior figures from McCann Worldgroup will be joined by Laurent Faracci, executive vice-president, global category, RB Health, to be grilled by Lindsay Stein, editor of Campaign US, with the aim of delivering on some of the insights and answers.

Then, halfway through, the three non-journalists will turn the tables and grill Stein.

In preparation for this, Stein sat down with McCann Worldgroup’s global chief strategy officer Suzanne Powers, president global clients and business leadership Nannette LaFond-Dufour and global creative chairman Rob Reilly to get a sneak peek at the direction of any potential answers and discuss some further thorny issues around agencyclient collaboration.

It was also a chance for Stein to gauge whether she would be in for a rough ride up on stage in Cannes.

Is it possible to create a perfect brand and agency relationship in today’s fragmented world?

Suzanne Powers: "It is, but it’s hard. Clients today require us to have different shapes of teams, work differently, and deliver a different level of partnership, and I’m not sure that we as an industry have quite solved that. I think we’re just so busy competing for the pitch."

Nannette LaFond-Dufour: "There’s also a lot for clients to do, but they’re in infrastructures with budgets and processes that are set up in a certain way that inhibit them, so we have to work together to help them manage change."

Rob Reilly: "And that’s why I think networks are important, because we have the scale, resources and talent to attack the problems." 

So, what are the answers?

SP: "Clients need strategy, creative and business leadership working as one. And they know they need this. If we’re working with them, and they think they are not getting it, they will ask why.

"We also have to evolve through experimentation, looking at those problems and trying to figure them out. I think we’re doing a lot of that work with a lot of our clients, changing the nature of the work and how we collaborate together."

NLD: "You have to collaborate in long-standing relationships, and at McCann Worldgroup we have incredibly long-standing relationships – Nestlé is 75 years, L’Oréal is 50 – and they have to evolve. In order to create something, you have to break something."

Being meaningful is a vital part of collaboration

SP: "But there are different altitudes of meaningfulness. Our whole strategy community is tasked with deeply knowing human beings and how they invite brands into their lives, and that helps us understand what that altitude of meaningfulness should be, depending on the client, of course."

RR: "Because the world is so messed up, people are going to support brands that are doing the right thing, and they will be okay with you making money too. So, helping brands figure out how to do the right thing in multiple altitudes is exciting. If you don’t think that’s the new commerce, I think your brand will be left in the dust."

SP: "A big part of being meaningful is hunting for truths, but you have to do that together with the clients, but we don’t walk into their companies and say: ‘Voila, we have found all of the truths that live in your company that you live every day.’"

To drive collaboration with clients, you also need to drive collaboration internally

SP: "The other thing that’s pretty important is, we have communities."

NLD: "Not councils. Councils are hierarchical. They tend to be there to judge things. Communities are there to actually share and create."

SP: "Everyone works together under the same working practices around the globe at a very quick pace. And I think our scale is actually an advantage. Companies can be bureaucratic. We aren’t. I don’t have to ask permission from the chief executive to use a person."

NLD: "So, the integration happens at a strategic level. Which means for us there’s a difference between integration and collaboration. Integration is what we do strategically to surround the client’s issues, collaboration is how we work together.

Creativity is the only way to survive

RR: "It also falls on the creative people to embrace collaborative communities, because the days of creative ‘geniuses’ in the corner who could be assholes to clients, business leaders and strategy partners are gone. Nobody wants to deal with assholes any more. So, I think we have a lot of mature, creative people now who understand a great idea can come from anywhere."

NLD: "I think, too, Rob’s touching on something really important, and that is the spirit of generosity. Because it is a world where we have to be much more generous in terms of sharing ideas and giving credit."

RR: Like Diego [Diego Scotti, CMO at Verizon and McCann Worldgroup client] complimenting us on Facebook. That’s above and beyond. And I’ve seen them comment on something from other clients. And there’s a lot of that going around and I think it’s really good.

"And Campaign is as much a part of our business as our clients, as other agencies are, putting value into us and what our clients are doing."

So maybe the answers from the stage in Cannes will be positive, as well as provocative. The agency folk certainly seem to be happy to give credit where credit is due, and clients seem to want to do likewise – some, at least.

As for Stein, she’ll be hoping she’s not in for the aforementioned rough ride; more placid Cannes pedalo than bucking bronco.

Catch the debate: the Campaign Cannes Sunriser, Thursday 20 June, 9-10.30am, The Grand Hotel Lawn, 45 Boulevard de la Croisette. Register for your place here.

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