Survey: Which Brands Are Dream Clients for Agencies -- and Which Are Nightmares?

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When it comes to their clients, agencies have very definite favorites -- and it doesn't always relate to who's paying them the most.

That's the conclusion that can be drawn from a recent survey completed by 400 senior leaders in a mix of creative, planning or account-management functions. The execs, who all earn salaries above $300,000, represented several major ad markets, including the U.S., U.K., Brazil, China, India, Germany, France, Holland, Singapore and Spain.

The survey was fielded by indie research firm Bonamy Finch in the U.K. and commissioned by The Talent Business, a firm that's a recruiter of senior marketing and creative talent for agencies.

What was the point? According to Gary Stolkin, global chairman and CEO of The Talent Business, the goal was to create a definitive list of which clients agencies love and which ones they hate in order to help spur an overall movement towards elevating marketers' reputations among the global agency community.

The survey found that the two most important drivers for agencies in working with clients were, firstly, demonstrating their belief in the value of ideas to drive business, and secondly, their reputation for working collaboratively with agencies. Shops also reported that an important factor in determining the desirability of working with a client was the opportunity to do work outside of the ad and marketing realm, and focus more broadly on business solutions.

The least important factor was the ability to work with clients on campaigns that could have a global impact.

Agency executives who responded to the survey were given a list of 27 corporations to choose from. They were: Adidas, American Express, Apple, Bacardi, Coca-Cola, Colgate, Diageo, Ford, General Motors, GlaxoSmithKline, Google, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft Foods, L'Oreal, McDonald's, Mars, Microsoft, Nike, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Reckitt-Benckiser, Samsung, S.C. Johnson, Toyota, Unilever, Visa, Volkswagen.

These companies were largely chosen because they are true global marketers, as well as by spending figures, the Talent Business said. A company such as AT&T, for example, wasn't included because telecoms tend to be a bit more regionally focused. But in the future, the Talent Business is planning to follow up this study by drilling down further, such as looking at the most/least desirable North American clients for agencies.

In terms of brand/owner reputation, the survey results found that the "premier league" for agencies is composed of Nike, Apple, Google, Adidas, Volkswagen & Coca-Cola.

Meanwhile, the six brands that agency executives identified as least desirable to work with were Colgate, GSK, Johnson & Johnson, L'Oreal, Reckitt Benckiser and SC Johnson.

One senior marketing professional based in China said of Nike: "They truly understand consumers and how to connect with them across various media platforms." Regarding Coca-Cola, one compliment from a Brazilian exec was "they keep reinventing themselves and have the ability to be relevant globally and locally."

The write-in commentary for brands such as L'Oreal and Reckitt-Benckiser was far different. L'Oreal is "formulaic" and lacks creativity, said an account manager in the U.K., while for Reckitt, a comment from a creative in the U.K. was: "They produce lowest common denominator advertising and they are a pain to work with."

Reckitt-Benckiser declined to comment on the survey, while representatives for L'Oreal did not respond by press time.

Only one person who responded to the survey said that L'Oreal was "very desirable to work with," while in contrast, Nike was voted the most desirable brand to work with overall and was the only brand for which no respondents said the company was "very undesirable" as a client. Those marketers that fell somewhere in the middle included Microsoft, Kraft Foods, Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Visa and all the automakers besides VW.

The Talent Business' Mr. Stolkin said that among the agency community, the results of the survey may not be surprising, but it's his goal to accumulate data on the matter. "It's the elephant in the room, but if you're going to talk about it, at least have the data to back it up," he said.

In his view, marketers should be concerned about their reputation in the global agency community because it directly impacts an agency's ability to recruit top talent to work on their account.

"Kraft is an interesting one because we are all aware that there's a lot of reheroic about how they want to change how they work with agencies, and they are in a very public way appointing agencies with a strong creative reputation onto their roster," Mr. Stolkin said. "They didn't do very well but they're not on the bottom."

He added: "I would say that if we had done this 10 years ago, Unilever would have been nearer the top and Procter nearer the bottom. ...Procter is becoming easier to recruit great talent for and Unilever is becoming much more difficult."

"If you as a brand owner have a poor reputation amongst creative talent, you are competitively disadvantaged," said Mr. Stolkin. "CMOs will realize that their reputation as a business directly impacts their ability to get the best people to work on the business around the world. There's a commercial imperative to do something about it."

What do you think about the results of the survey? Tell us in the comments.

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