Open partnerships deliver better value than ‘master-servant’ client-agency relationships

The Drum 12 Jun 2020 11:30
By Kim Walker-12 June 2020 12:30pm

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Much depends on marketers overcoming hierarchical prejudices, and agencies stepping-up as true strategic partners.

In the modern western concept of healthy personal relationships, equity is key. What ‘I think of you’ should be pretty much equate with what ‘you think of me’. When there is a disconnect, trouble looms.

The same applies when comparing performance evaluations between two business teams, in this case between marketers and their agencies.

Our database reveals that at a global level, marketers score agencies -4.08 points lower than agencies score their clients.

This ‘gap’ is in some ways understandable, but it is also reasonable to suggest that a large gap in perception between the two parties, as with individuals, is not a healthy place to start.

Marketers in the US and UK start with a gap which is narrower than the global average. We interpret this to mean that they have a somewhat more equitable view of each other at the beginning of a relationship compared to markets with larger negative gaps.

1) The agency may be giving its client a high score for fear of retribution.

Instinctively, neither are good when the independent voice of an external agency is one of their principle reasons for their existence.

Previous research has revealed that clients and agencies in North America tends to score generally higher than other countries – this is largely a factor of culture.

To answer this we examined how some of these ‘worst case scenario’ relationships evolved over time and whether they responded differently to regular, formal relationship evaluations.

As the chart shows, despite an unfavourable initial gap in the relationships, most of these cases improve (narrowing gap) over time, as we would hope and expect.

Why might this be?

Beyond the cultural influence of hierarchical structures on how ‘suppliers’ are perceived in certain cultures, there’s another contributing factor.

As the illustration shows, the categories/product have been divided into four segments;

Strategic Items include criteria that agencies often dream of, such as the development of long-term relationships and collaboration and innovation.

While the Leverage items are defined as exploitation of full purchasing power, targeted pricing strategies/negotiations.

The big question is, where do advertising agencies belong in this matrix of service providers and where are they are perceived by marketers and their procurement teams?

To enable relationships to improve over time, marketers – usually in the driving seat of the client-agency dynamic, need to overcome hierarchical business prejudices inherent in their cultures. This will provide room for agencies to step-up as true strategic partners.


Analysis of thousands of client-agency evaluations in our database reveals a powerful, fundamental truth; clients get the agencies they deserve.

Marketers that follow the 4 elements of being a good client can achieve 37% more value from their agency partnership, simply by changing the way they work with their agency.

Kim Walker, chairman, Aprais

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Dr Peter KraljicNorth AmericaUKKoreaUS
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