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Agency-client relationships have undergone a transformation during the global pandemic, as agencies have adapted to new ways of collaborating. Marketing and media consultancy Ebiquity and agency group Havas discussed those changes and how permanent they might be in a recent webinar.
There is a real desire amongst marketing and procurement professionals for agencies to adopt this agile, shapeshifting approach
Five years ago, P&G’s chief brand officer Marc Pritchard sent a strong message to the ad agency world, when he said in a conference interview that agency complexity should not be made the problem of the client. “We want you to make that complexity invisible,” he added.
Here in 2021, with the effects of a global pandemic still filtering through every facet of business and personal life, Pritchard’s words are worthy of reconsideration. Have agencies heeded his message? What is the nature of current agency-client relationships? How has COVID-19 affected these relationships?
The world is a different place today to the one in which Marc Pritchard issued his challenge, but his words loomed large over a recent webinar held between agency group Havas and Ebiquity, the independent global marketing and media consultancy.
Debbie Morrison, managing director of global partnerships and events at Ebiquity, said Pritchard’s words were “golden”, and agreed that marketing procurement professionals just want their agencies to “show us the simple way to achieve what we want to achieve”. Morrison said Ebiquity has been undertaking a significant research project, interviewing marketers and procurement heads on what they expect from 2021 as consumers and brands learn and recover from COVID, and what this will mean for media and marketing.
“There has been a huge change in consumer behaviour, and there’s also been a lot of working from home, all challenging businesses in the way that they do things, and really causing them to re-examine both their internal structures and their external relationships, in order to continue to deliver their services over this really peculiar time. In a way, both marketing procurement and agencies have had to be real shapeshifters.”
Agility has been one of the key requirements of agency suppliers during this period, and Morrison said that many marketers and procurers had appreciated sharing a greater depth of collaboration in working with their agencies. Remote working due to COVID has made the virtual pitch a familiar part of everyone’s life in this sector.
“A lot of my conversations with the client community are about them saying, actually, we quite like some of the things that we’ve changed over this period. How do we keep them? How, when we’re all back in the office, do we work with our agencies to recreate this more agile, more intuitive, more collaborative way of working?”
There is a real desire amongst marketing and procurement professionals for agencies to adopt this agile, shapeshifting approach. All of this takes place in an environment where there is little real prospect of increases in budgets, or lessening in the requirement to measure and prove the effectiveness of every pound spent, Morrison affirmed.
Value and expectation
In response to this, Patrick Affleck, CEO of Havas Media Group UK & Ireland, reflected that some clients still regard marketing as a cost centre rather than a revenue generator. Attitudes such as this should focus agency minds on proving the value of marketing spend.
Affleck also acknowledged Marc Pritchard’s perspective from 2016, saying “we want to make sure that complexity is made invisible”. That becomes easier if the complexity itself is simplified, and Affleck said the COVID pandemic has been a period in which the agency has assessed its structures with a view to simplifying them.
“We have tried to look at our existing scopes of work with our clients and be much more flexible; to say, actually, we need to just think that right now you don’t require that particular skill set; what you actually require is more individuals that are well versed in this particular area, that can offer real value to you at this given point.”
Value is of course critical for clients. There are expectations of growth, even though budgets are more or less static. “We are also trying to do a lot more work around helping clients to prioritise the right KPIs that we believe will help them contribute to achieving their particular goals,” he said.
Affleck added that he wants to move the agency to a more “fluid” model, better able to cater for the shifting needs and shifting challenges of clients. This requirement will outlast the constraints of the pandemic period.
Affleck’s colleague, Xavier Rees, CEO of Havas CX UK, observed that today clients want effectiveness, delivered efficiently. Putting the right team together, without putting boxes around particular disciplines, or putting geographical constraints on the deployment of talent, is a critical part of that delivery. Focusing on the agility of the agency’s behaviour as well as its structure allows it to answer in a different way the age-old question of what the right team is to build around the client.
“You have to make it simple – as simple as possible for that core team – to pull in the right specialists and the right resource when they need it, so that it’s not there when they don’t,” he said.
“If anything has become really apparent in the last 12 months, it is that actually you can never quite predict what’s coming next: what you can do is shape yourself to be able to respond quickly when it does come. That’s what I really think about when I think of agility.”
Agility, fluidity, shapeshifting – if that’s what agencies need to do to make Marc Pritchard’s complexity invisible, perhaps the pandemic has brought that realisation home. And perhaps client-agency relationships will prosper going forward on those terms.
The webinar was chaired by Tracey Barber, Global CMO, Havas Creative Group
To listen to the webinar in full tap the image below or use the LINK