CMO Strategy Summit

Marketing Executives Reveal What They Want From Strong Client-Agency Relationship

Efficiency, Understanding and Someone to Challenge Them

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As he took the stage to moderate a panel about agency-client relationships at Ad Age 's CMO Summit, David Selby, managing partner and president of Schafer Condon Carter, asked the audience of marketing executives how many would rate their relationships with their agencies a 10 out of 10. No one raised a hand.

But all is not lost. Mr. Selby noted that relationships between agencies and clients are improving, moving away from a more vendor-type relationship to a partnership, some even long-lasting.

Leontyne Green Sykes, CMO at Ikea, said that a strong and successful relationship is all about transparency and openness. Ikea, however, was not previously known for valuing agencies. "When I started in this position, Ikea had a reputation of having a new agency almost annually," she said, adding that the agency-client relationship had been more of a transactional one. She recognized that "we needed a partner who truly understands our business," noting that she appreciates an agency that can challenge Ikea's "internal thinking."

(From l.) Leontyne Green Sykes, Andrew Davidson, Edward Gleich and David Selby.
(From l.) Leontyne Green Sykes, Andrew Davidson, Edward Gleich and David Selby.

Ms. Green Sykes said that while the retailer has a lead agency -- Ogilvy & Mather -- it works with other agencies, and her goal is to have them get together as much as possible to ensure strong relationships all around.

For Andrew Davidson, CMO at Crocs, which has an in-house agency, a strong partnership between marketers and creatives "starts with a transparent and honest relationship." He added that marketing execs need to be transparent about their goals and challenges, and there's a strong need for marketers to work with creatives to help them understand the landscape the brand competes in. Mr. Davidson added that Crocs is able to squeeze more out of its modest marketing budget, not only because it cut costs by bringing marketing in-house, but by placing a priority on targeting and measurement.

Other crucial elements from the marketer perspective include the requirement that agencies understand exactly what a brand's values are in its marketing. "We wanted to bring in an agency that understood our tonality," said Ed Gliech, senior VP-global marketing at Little Caesars, who recently oversaw an agency review, tapping BFG 9000 for national creative. That tonality, of course, is light hearted humor, which historically have been part of the brand's pedigree.

He also said that Little Caesars has been giving BFG 9000 a bit more freedom than many people may be comfortable with. "We look at setting up parameters that are pretty loose. If it makes us uncomfortable, that 's not a bad thing." Mr. Gleich added that Little Caesars is widely known as a challenger brand in the marketplace -- and its marketing budget is a fraction of the budgets of chains like Pizza Hut. But the chain uses that to its advantage. "We have many great things going for our brand" and bringing in agencies allows Little Caesars to amplify things that are working well for it, such as convenience and value. "It's picking partners that understand that as well and are willing to take a risk to make our nickels spend like dimes."

As for what marketers think agencies need to do to be more effective, Mr. Gleich said, "be as efficient as you can. Spend money like it's your money." Ms. Green Sykes said that the most important thing is that agencies "have a point of view."

Mr. Davidson, who is an agency veteran, offered a little bit of sympathy for the agencies when it comes to how marketers view their effectiveness. "Being on client side, there's a lot of complexity and variables you're not thinking about on the agency side."

Agency compensation models, which can be a sensitive subject, were also a topic of discussion. Mr. Gleich, for instance, said Little Caesars' compensation model is a traditional one, but there is a performance incentive tied to franchisees' profitability. Ms. Green Sykes said that Ikea has added a new element to its compensation model that 's tied to the business results.

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