Survey: Clients Must Improve Quality of Briefs to Agencies if They Want Better Work

Integration, Strategic Thinking and Agency Collaboration Initiatives Also Need Improvement

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Marketers should focus on improve their briefs to agencies if they want better work, according to the results of a new survey by Joanne Davis Consulting that aimed to uncover the ways in which agencies think their clients can improve.

The survey was fielded to more than 1,200 C-level agency executives around the world, which generated anonymous responses from 293 agency leaders -- a 19% response rate. Among the topics they were asked to rank their clients on were integration, procurement, compensation and agency consolidation.

It drew respondents from North America, Europe and APAC, and across media, creative, digital and PR agencies, among other types of shops. Joanne Davis Consulting partnered with Scan International on the initiative.

Agency assignment briefs were a major problem area, agencies said -- highlighting the old "garbage in, garbage out" mentality. Most agencies reported some level of frustration regarding the quality of assignment briefings: 53% found briefs complete but lacking in focus; 27% found them incomplete and inconsistent; 20% found them complete and focused most of the time; and zero respondents found them complete and focused all the time.

According to the findings, media agencies are consistently more positive about the quality of their clients than leaders from other main agency disciplines, such as PR. They ranked quality of clients more than 20% higher than other types of agencies in granting access to client decision-makers, which could be partly due to the large budgets with which media agencies work. Media agencies also ranked clients' evaluation processes higher than other types of agencies. The survey attributes this result to the popularity of media audits as part of the agencies' evaluations.

On the flip side, 53% of total agency respondents said clients processes for evaluating agencies are not up to par, and only 3% said clients had excellent processes.

Strategic thinking is something agencies believe is lacking among marketers too. Only 3% of agency leaders said that typical clients have excellent strategic capabilities; 45% found them adequate; and 49% said they were limited.

Agencies' perspective on the level at which clients are integrating disciplines is a mixed bag. 12% found clients adequate on the integration front; 72% said the level of integration varies by project; and 15% said clients have no integrated strategy.

On hot topics such as procurement and compensation, agencies anticipate that there will be better models in the coming years; they were optimistic that procurement could focus less on cost management and more on aligning their departments with marketing. But respondent scores were still relatively low. Currently, 50% of the respondents associate procurement only with cost management.

Client compensation is also relatively bleak, according to the research. Only 3% of the respondents said clients actually want agencies to make a profit and offer incentives; 36% said clients provide acceptable profit; 50% said clients provide some profit and 11% said they cover costs. European agencies gave clients higher marks for fair compensation than other regions did.

The survey also asked the shops to explain why they think there's so much agency consolidation by clients of late. Agency leaders said that 56% of typical clients are consolidating to reduce agency fees; 16% to reduce headcount; 23% to improve harmonization; and 5% for full integration.

Clients' influence on agency collaboration is a far cry from perfect, as 51% of agencies said they coordinate themselves.

Despite all of the imperfections, agency leaders anticipate that client quality will improve in a number of areas over the next two years. And in the survey, most agencies took some responsibility for the future success of the relationships.

When asked how they could meet clients' needs, 10% said no major changes were planned; 25% said they need more diversified expertise; 34% said they need more diversified expertise and technology; and 31% said they need more diversified expertise, technology and training. Media agencies were 23% more likely to say they need more diversified expertise, training and technology.

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