Jeremy Bullmore reveals the flaw in agency/client marriage vows

Ask Bullmore is a venerable Campaign series in which former JWT chairman and WPP director Jeremy Bullmore answers various questions from readers.

This is a fearsome job, like Dave Trott’s weekly musings, even though you don’t have to write very much. Dave needs to re-invent the world according to Trott every seven days, In Bullmore’s case (below) he needs to be wise and witty – pithily. It’s easy to come across as superficial.

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This week a marketer asked him if he (the marketer) needed to like the agency people working on his account (pretty clearly he didn’t). The relationship means more to one party than the other, wrote Jeremy:

“When an agency and a client part company, the agency may wait for years before finding a replacement. The client will have 50 reputable agencies banging on their door before nightfall. What all this means, of course, is that agency people feel far more responsible than client people for maintaining relationships.

They know they constantly need to prove their worth, certainly, but they also know the importance of being liked. So agency life breeds some of the most likeable people in the world; and what they like more than anything is to be liked back by their clients.”

That’s it, of course, although the client is entitled to feel and act in this way because he’s taking the financial risk, as Bullmore also notes.

I always used to find watching clever and capable people in agencies fawning over clients – some of whom were clearly neither – rather embarrassing. But, as Bullmore says, it’s like a marriage that means more to one partner than the other. The one that fears they’ll be left on the shelf.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

  1. Unfortunately this is true. And the simple reason for this imbalance is the fact that a lot of marketers gravely underestimate the cost of changing an agency. Simple cost of on-boarding, cost from delays in implementation, from mistakes caused by a lack of category- and ‘grown brand experience’ can easily go into the millions of US dollar. Any sensible marketer of size will think twice before taking this step (which puts the relationship on a much more equal footing). A wise person once told me: “Before you change your Agency, change your Agency” – a truth which goes far beyond client-/agency relationships.

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