How to address the agency-client disconnect

Research shows a disconnect between agency and clients when it comes to what they expect from each other. Here is some advice for both sides to bring them closer together.

Closer together: agencies and clients are disconnected
Closer together: agencies and clients are disconnected

At last, businesses are starting to feel optimistic as the UK economy shows signs of improvement.

We have just completed an independent study, interviewing 200 senior-level client side and agency representatives. It revealed that marketers are more confident this year than in 2013, with almost all (93 per cent) clients saying things had "picked up" and three-quarters (74 per cent) expecting this situation to continue in 2014.

But this sunny outlook was rather marred by the evidence of a disconnect between clients and agencies, with 77 per cent of the former saying that, in pitches, agencies often set a level of expectation that was rarely delivered on, while 90 per cent of the latter said the same about clients.

There are common traps that both clients and agencies fall into during the pitch process. Marketers not making their briefs clear enough and agencies failing to put their best foot forward during the pitch process are the main culprits.

It is vital that both clients and agencies review their approach so they can capitalise on the uplift in account tenders expected this year.

Prepare to be "Pitch Perfect"

In this increasingly competitive and ever-changing environment, it is more important than ever for marketers and agencies to be on top of their game. For agencies, this means addressing the following:

PR yourself

Agencies need to do their own PR to ensure prospective clients can find them easily and that their skills and expertise shines through. Competition in the market is fierce, so it’s vital that agencies make themselves known.

Balancing act

PR agencies in particular are guilty of participating in far too many pitches. Get the balance right and avoid spreading resource too thinly by being more discerning in qualifying leads. Agencies should target pitches, which they know are a good fit for their skills. You’d be amazed how many agencies stray form their core offerings. Know your strengths and stick to what you’re good at.

Relationships are key

We know the pitch process can be time and resource hungry, not to mention costly, so nurture your existing relationships while always being on the lookout for ways to build new relationships. It’s also important to keep in touch with clients even if you’re not successful at the first pitch attempt.  Find out why you weren’t selected. A tweaked approach and ‘learning by doing’ will help strengthen your pitch success rate.

Best Foot Forward

Pitching is a two-way process and if client brand teams are to get the best results from agencies, they must be clear on the following:

What does PR mean to you?

PR means different things to different people and is often part of a broader marketing/communications function.  Be specific about what it means to your organisation and what you expect it to achieve before the pitch process takes place.

Set your expectations

Too often, agencies find that the budget goalposts change upon appointment, which can lead to frustration on both sides. Make sure budgets, outputs and expectations are agreed from the outset and continually reviewed and measured as the campaign progresses.

Be honest

Tell agencies how the pitch will be judged. Pitching is subjective, so have a set of criteria in place and communicate this to relevant parties.

Spending time on getting the process right from the start will help avoid future misunderstandings and set the tone for a positive and successful working relationship.

Alex Young is a business director at AAR, a marketing services consultancy specialising in client: agency relationships.

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