U.K. Survey: Marketers Say They Aren't Happy With Global Agency Alignments

Only 44% of Agencies Can Be Relied on to Keep Promises or Listen to Clients

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Neil Simpson, founder of London agency The Corner
Neil Simpson, founder of London agency The Corner

By almost every measure, marketers who work with ad agencies as part of an international alignment are less satisfied than their colleagues who work with locally-chosen shops.

Results, creativity, value for money and service all scored lower for international alignments, with only digital coming out on top, according to a survey by the U.K.'s Incorporated Society of British Advertisers.

Only 93 U.K. marketers responded to the survey – half of whom have local agreements and half with international agreements -- but the overall attitude to agencies was clear.

Just 44% of respondents said they could be relied on to keep promises, compared to 85% of respondents who work with locally-chosen agencies in the U.K.. And only 22% of respondents said international relationships offer value for money, while 46% of respondents believe local agencies do.

Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy and best practice at ISBA, said the results were not terribly surprising. "The sad thing is that, whatever questions we ask about international contracts, local marketers are never happy about being shoe-horned into international agreements, because they've not been part of the decision," Ms. Morrison said.

Instead of complaining, Ms Morrison recommended that ISBA members, who include Procter & Gamble, Unilever, McDonald's, Nestlé and General Motors, "learn to make the best of what they've been given."

A lot of it is quite basic stuff: how do you get to be the favorite client?" Ms. Morrison said. "Can we be the best at briefing, returning calls, personal relationships?"

Debbie Morrison of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers
Debbie Morrison of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers

Global alignments have become more common in recent years, with big marketers choosing to put all their business into holding company teams like WPP's Team Vodafone, Team Detroit (for Ford) and Team GSK. Ms. Morrison said, "There are lots of [marketers] who've had local relationships taken away, and who are now having to deal with global relationships, which are bound to have teething problems."

Neil Simpson, founder of London agency The Corner, previously held global marketer roles at Coca-Cola, Adidas and Vodafone, and was also CEO of Publicis London. He said, "Frustration can kick in if there's no flexibility. At Adidas and Vodafone I had the best of both worlds, because I had a network agency, but was also plugged in to smaller creative agencies in the local market. There's always an awkwardness if everything's directed from the center."

The only area where marketers were somewhat happier with international agencies was digital. Responding to the statement, "Our agency has the skills and agility we need to create and deliver new digital content in the time horizons we need," only 30% of marketers said they were happy with locally-chosen agencies, while 34% of respondents were happy with digital work from internationally-aligned agencies.

Mr. Simpson speculated, "Maybe international digital agencies started from the same base level as marketers, so there are less preconceptions, and less of an imbalance in understanding. They may feel better aligned if they've learned together."

Of marketers with international alignments, just 66% agreed that their agency delivered strong results (79% for marketers with locally-chosen agencies); 50% were competent with data insights (67%), 34% were connected to consumers (49%); 50% had ideas that worked across channels (64%); 55% have the client's best interests at heart (72%); 39% did not engage in turf wars (61%); and 28% kept to production budgets (64%).

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