Are your client relationships strong enough to last?

Are your client relationships strong?

No one wants to lose business.  So what do you do to prevent it?  We analyse research on client management and take a light-hearted look at the view of some agency types.

How good are agencies at managing relationships with clients?  Losing clients costs money, and agencies complain of the burden of having continually to find new business.  Consultants Pace Partnership and Willott Kingston Smith, the auditors, asked the heads of leading marketing services agencies to assess their strengths and weaknesses.
Executives were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with key statements, and wider conclusions were then drawn on each participating sector.  Pace/Willott Kingston Smith found that most agencies were confident of their work for clients.

However the survey reveals that many agencies in many of the sectors are spreading themselves too thin and take too short-term a view of client management.  Often this comes down to the chemistry between two individuals: one with the agency, the other with the client.  Frequent turnover of staff on both sides puts this at risk.  Of the sectors, advertising was at the top of the list, partly because of its experience and historical presence in the market.  The weakest performance was in design and industry newcomer interactive media.  
Creative Business also took a lighter hearted view (below), and imagined how executives in each of the different marketing services sector might describe their strengths.

Along with direct marketing and media buying, advertising is leading the way in creating measurement systems to ensure that ads meet clients’ objectives.  A high percentage of agency remuneration agreements include a payment by results elements.  However, some agencies seem to be trying to be all things to all clients, and need to determine which clients are truly vital to their future.  And agencies are bad at declining invitations to pitch.

Brand and marketing consultancies have been at the forefront of championing an integrated or “media neutral” approach which claims to offer clients the best advice on which medium to use for a campaign.  With other disciplines also pushing their “media neutral” credentials, branding and marketing consultancies will need to be able to articulate how they differ in their approach.  The sector didn’t fare well in measuring the value of their work and few are operating payment by results.  Another weakness is that relationships with clients are often based on the chemistry between individuals, so come under pressure when key individuals move on.

PR scores well in accountability – trying to meet client business objectives and measuring the results.  Many of the agencies are also good at turning to other disciplines and are not tied to one communications tool.  According to the survey, PR offers clients a wide range of solutions from different communication disciplines.  But like other sectors, it is considered weak when sharing client information within the agency.  Improvements in this area would ensure that even if team members come and go, client information is handled efficiently, reducing duplication and errors.

Design did not fare as well as the other disciplines.  While this may be partly due to the self-effacing nature of designers compared to the more high-profile world of advertising chiefs, smaller design houses tend to be weak in planning, as they lack a strategic approach to client relationships and process.  This, in turn, seems to because many do not have the right procedures in place to execute client planning. 

This sector was the weakest in the study.  While this could reflect its relative infancy, the performance also indicates that interactive/digital media is not always allocating the necessary time and importance to managing key clients.  Internal meetings are not taken as seriously as they should and the sector risks leaving client satisfaction unchecked by not gathering feedback on a regular basis.  Agencies need to rethink their information they gather on clients to position and sell their services more effectively. 
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For information on “Managing Key Clients 2004” visit:

Sharon Mandelbaum recently joined ad agency Jade as new business development director, after making her name at Duffy Duffy Roberts Adams Hooper & Williams. Jade, a mid-sized agency with an international network, has been famous for its large but conservative clients.  But thanks to a management shake-up, it has won accounts such as margarine brand Slather Me and Pubis, the bikini-line hair covering.  Mandlebaum, 30, makes sure the client is happy with the creative process, and is keen that Jade is on every pitch going. “Even if we don’t get the account, we need to be at the top of the shortlist,” she says.

Bob White, 41, is MD of marketing consultancy Mather & White.  Famous for a wildly successful promotion of a premium athlete’s foot cream during the January sales season, M & W blurs the distinction between advertising and direct marketing and sponsorship activity.  Once known for the number of Porsches in the company parking lot, the agency is coping with lower margins, forcing White to downsize his won fleet of sports cars.  “We don’t differentiate between above and below the line anymore.  We now offer before, through and beyond the line.  Some days we don’t even see a line at all,” says White.

Ina Payne, 35, set up her PR agency The Payne People five years ago in the belief that PR would play an increasingly large role in the market mix.  Dipping into her brief stint as a guerrilla marketer, Payne has a track record of headline-grabbing ideas including branding the cleavages of female student.  The agency has just been appointed to try and generate positive coverage for the new toll road leading to Heathrow’s seventh terminal. “Marketing, like the tastiest chicken, is free range,” is her mantra, referring to the way companies now choose from a wider selection of sectors for their marketing.

Johnny Foxx, 51, one of the grandees of UK design, is back in business. He moved to southern Spain after completing his eam out following his sale of his design agency Foxx to global network company Omnicis.  But bored of playing golf, he has now set up a new agency Johnny.  Famous for covering aeroplane tailfins with government logos such as “Eat five portions of veg a day”, Fox was recently sounded out about a possible rebranding of Prince Charles.  “I want to keep Johnny small. I make all the decisions anyway, so there‘s no need for bureaucratic systems,” he says.

Mack Keen, 27, set up his Hoxton-based digital agency, eeeek, in the dotcom boom.  Eeeek survived the crash, mainly by subletting the bottom two floors of it’s huge HQ in a converted tea warehouse to a series o installation galleries.  Margins at the firm have tumbled since the dotcom era, but the agency had a hit with it’s viral ad “Sqeeze em”.  Designed to promote breast feeding, this featured a busty model-cum-reality-TV star and created a huge buzz in the chat rooms.  “People tend to like sex, and the client seems to be happy as we haven’t heard from them,” says Keen.

Managing clients: Key statements

(A score of 100 means that all firms surveyed in that sector agreed)



  Advertising Branding / Marketing PR Design Interactive
When we run a project for a client, our objectives reflect their business objectives 100 89 100 87 67
We believe the relationship between a client and the agency is not based on the relationship of the two individuals 72 50 67 53 56
We offer payment by results 78 50 52 3 67
We speak with our clients on a regular basis to gather feedback on their perception of our services 78 67 86 60 33
We are comfortable turning down an invitation to pitch 44 61 43 33 22
Our website is more than an electronic brochure 50 50 38 30 33

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