Ad Age Editorial

Five Tips to Keep the Agency-Client Flames Burning

Great Marketers Must Change to Thrive, but That Doesn't Have to Mean Changing Agencies

Published on .

Marketers must change or die. Agencies must change or die. But that does not mean marketers must change agencies.

In our Relationship Issue, Ad Age analyzed client/agency marriages that have lasted nearly or longer than a century.

We were struck by the caliber of marketers on the list, including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Ford and General Electric. Each of those companies is a case study in how to succeed over the long haul through leadership in management, innovation, corporate strategy and marketing.

GE succeeds as a corporation because it is always in the process of reinventing itself, yet it has not reviewed its account since hiring BBDO in 1920. That's intriguing.

The agency partners in these relationships are true leaders. The list includes BBDO, DraftFCB, JWT, McCann Erickson and Saatchi & Saatchi. Those five shops ranked among the nation's 10 largest agencies both in Ad Age's most recent tally and (under earlier names) in our first agency ranking in 1944.

In an industry that lives for new and improved, some marketers and brands lead decade after decade. Some agencies lead decade after decade by taking ownership of whatever is new.

It's easy for a CMO to fire the old agency. It's tempting to have a fling with the hot agency of the moment. But there are lessons to be learned from successful long-term client/agency relationships:

1. Marketers and agencies share responsibility for maintaining the relationship. Don't take anything for granted.

2. Trust, respect and understanding lead to better work. If the agency is always on edge, the work will suffer.

3. Marketer and agency must change, grow and adapt for the relationship to last -- and for each to remain relevant.

4. Keep it fresh. Marketer and agency both need a mix of veterans who know the past and of new talent who challenge the future. If there's a problem, the first step should be to change the people, not the agency.

5. A longstanding agency that knows the marketer and is passionate for the brand may be better for the brand long term than a new agency loyal only to the new CMO. Odds are the CMO will be gone in a few years. Great brands should live forever. Maybe great relationships can, too.

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