Agencies Sound Off on How Clients Should Improve

Receptive Clients at ANA Conference Asking for More Feedback

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It's not every day an agency exec gets to stand up in front of clients and tell them how they could be doing their jobs better. But that 's precisely what happened yesterday during a conference hosted by the Association of National Advertisers, the trade group for marketers.

As part of the event, which was held at Pfizer's headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, five well-known execs from Madison Avenue were invited to share with clients changes they should be making in order to improve their businesses and working relationships with agencies. It was a surprisingly noncombative discussion; not only were the roomful of marketers unmiffed by agencies' complaints, they actually asked the execs for help.

The discussion ranged from the need to change compensation models and the pitch process to clients' need to faster reorganize themselves to more effectively work with their agencies. Here's a sampling of what agency execs had to say. Do you have additional thoughts? Say so in the comments below.

Barry Wacksman, exec VP-chief growth officer R/GA: Integration, Letting Consumer Behavior Guide Your Structure: Clients are demanding integrated campaigns from agencies, but often a client's organization isn't set up to increase digital marketing activities or create integrated campaigns. According to Mr. Wacksman, the few marketers that have reorganized successfully have done it around consumer behavior and the way that technology intersects with their lives.

Doug Scott, president of Ogilvy Entertainment: The Need For Blended Pricing, Embracing Co-Ownership of Ideas. It's time we found a "way to measure beyond clicks and impressions," and it's necessary for clients to push Nielsen and media agencies to work on getting to a solution that more realistically measures integrated campaigns and marketing platforms. Mr. Scott would also like to see clients permit agencies to allow ideas to extend beyond an ad campaign, and let the agency and partners realize the financial upside from licensing, merchandising or exploiting the ideas in other ways.

Mike Burns, managing partner at BurnsGroup: Get More Out of Your Agencies. Mr. Burns urged marketers in the audience to not settle for mediocrity from their agencies, noting that when it comes to new business, "client inertia is the greatest competitive advantage" for agencies. Ouch. He also challenged them to ask themselves whether they are really getting the best talent within agencies to work on their accounts, whether the fees they were paying were going toward overhead or staff and whether their agencies were pushing them hard and bringing them new ideas every day. If not, it's time to change shops.

Paul Lavoie, co-founder at chairman at Taxi: Nurture the Relationship, Get Rid of Spec Work in Pitches. Successful business relationships aren't so different from successful personal relationships, said Mr. Lavoie. Not enough clients are bringing genuine enthusiasm to the table, and it shows in the end product. There needs to be a stepped-up sense of decision-making authority in the marketing suite. He also asked the audience to consider changing the pitch process to make it credentials-based only, and to hire agencies based on their experiences, as one might an accountant or a lawyer. The presentation of spec creative wastes time and money that can be channeled elsewhere. "If we put all that energy and intelligence towards something bigger, we could really solve some problems," he said.

Jon Bond, CEO at Big Fuel: Not Enough Forms of Non-cash Compensation. The way you pay your agency has little impact on the actual team that works on the account, and important forms of currency that all too often don't exist in client-agency relationships are: respect, access to the CMO and CEO, trust and autonomy. They should also be recognized if they find ways to work successfully with other agencies. "Consider paying them for spending the clients' money not by fighting with other agencies, but against competitors to win market share," he said.

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