Ian Maynard (left), head of marketing and business development director of London-based creative and production specialist network, says that, in a multi-agency world, client trust rather than micro-management is the best way to create harmonious and effective client/agency relationships.
Most large accounts these days are multiple agency accounts, although there are still a few exceptions – such as British Airways’ recent decision to move all its business into BBH.
Even that, though, seems to mean that BBH will have to add units to its current offer; multiple agencies within one big entity perhaps.
Stephen Whyte, a former CEO of McCann in London, wrote here recently about the problems facing clients in a pitch; particularly when it comes to the choice of digital agencies. Everyone says they can do it all but can they really?
The usual scenario is as follows: there will be a lead creative agency responsible for developing an over-arching idea and set of brand guidelines. At a very early stage they will have shown the client how it should work every which way.
The other agencies might number specialists in PR, online (perhaps more than one), SEO, social media perhaps and main media. Most likely there will be a support agency responsible for adaptation, implementation and the production of thousands of executions, mostly in press.
Which immediately raises the question: who’s responsible for ensuring that the half page ad in the South Wales Echo doesn’t just wear the right clothes but behaves in the right way?
It might have the correct brand identity but what if the content doesn’t have the desired tone of voice, even if it’s a cracking way of selling the product? We’ve all seen examples of retail accounts where there’s a big burst of inspiring TV but then, for the rest of the rest of the year, the same dreary old stuff appears in other media, week in, week out.
Understandably the lead creative agency, having created the big idea, should take poll position. However although lead agencies may be brilliant at what they do they can’t be expected to police everything – and neither can or should the client.
What’s more, while multi-agency meetings work as a way of sharing information (as long as the temptation to grandstand in front of the client is resisted), rules can’t be imposed on every element of every piece of communication. Otherwise there won’t be very much actual communication.
Two things need to happen:
Firstly the adapting agency (the support agency) needs to be responsible for its own output; how it interprets and implements the agreed brand guidelines and when to refer back to the lead agency.
Secondly, they need to be very good at understanding. Understanding the brand idea; understanding what feels right for the brand and what doesn’t and understanding how design frameworks and brand identities will play out in channels that, perhaps, weren’t central to the original conception of the idea.
Lead agencies often complain that clients don’t impose themselves enough on their network of agencies. But they don’t need to. Trust here is crucial, just as it is in the relationship between client and lead agency.
If the client and the lead agency trust the support agency they can, provided the right brand guidelines are in place, safely leave the support agency to get on with things.
This may not be a sure-fire recipe for happiness (life, alas, is more complicated than that) but it will certainly avoid a great deal of time-consuming misery.