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Let’s reintroduce client agency secondments

Let’s reintroduce client agency secondments
Debbie Morrison, director of consultancy and best practice at ISBA, shares her thoughts on how to improve the client agency relationship.

Morrison on…collaboration between ISBA and the IPA

The ISBA Executive has bought into Ian Priest’s ADAPT agenda because it’s all about collaboration. Improving client-agency relationships is a shared interest.
It can’t be a one-sided debate because we’re all in this together and you can’t begin to improve relations without the one side talking to the other.”

Morrison on…what her experiences at ISBA have shown
Client-agency relationships are a major issue. I’ve analysed the work we’ve done over the last year here on consultancy projects. Our team has had over 1,600 one-on-one conversations with advertisers, and the vast majority are, at heart, about agency relationships, how to make them better and build mutual respect.

Morrison on…her impressions of the Alliances Adaptathons

All the clients I spoke to on the day got a lot out of it. One advertiser told me how important it had been to him to be able to take time to step away from the day-to-day rush to think about relationships on a larger, broader, scale – to take a helicopter view of them.

There’s clearly an experimental nature to the ADAPTATHONs, but the key is recognising the need to collaborate. The fact that these debates are being held in public is really important – everyone gains from sharing experiences and knowledge and ideas.

Morrison on…where relationships go wrong

To me, the focus on the first 100 days is right.

Usually clients appoint a new agency because there’s a problem. So there’s pressure to dive into solving it immediately, to getting the first work out quickly. So both sides just get on with it without necessarily taking the time to think about how the relationship is going to work.

At the same time, this is the moment when the pressure falls on the client – they’re the one that’s taken the risk in appointing that agency, and they have to prove to everyone in their organisation – and retail partners, distributors and suppliers in some cases too – that it’s the right choice and that it’s going to work.

Anything that helps the client and the agency at this point is worth spending time on.

Morrison on…getting relationships off to a sound start

There’s so much more to a strong relationship than just the quality of the work: it’s about culture, it’s about philosophy, proper terms and conditions, about taking the time to get to know each other as people.

That’s why it’s worth ISBA and the IPA collaborating to agree fundamental starter principles and ideas.

It’s more of a charter than a contract, I’m sure: a contract implies too much legalese, which takes time and can be inhibiting.

Morrison on…what makes a strong relationship

When I see a strong relationship it’s clear it’s driven by great personalities: people with conviction, people who trust their gut instinct, aren’t always driven by process, and who respect their opposite numbers.

But having strong processes at the heart make a difference. Unilever and P&G have great processes that make a difference and help client and agency start from a strong foundation.

In too many cases, however, people are just thrown in at the deep end at the start of the relationship without shared understanding or any clear rules of engagement.

Morrison on…the key takeaways from the Alliances Adaptathon

One, clients and agencies have to step out of the day-to-day delivery of the ‘work’ to understand each other better and to figure out how to work together.

Two, let’s learn from each other. Hear other people’s stories and tailor or modify what others do for your needs.

Three, find ways to talk more.

And Morrison on…why secondments should be re-introduced

I’d like to see client-agency secondments re-introduced. Relationships fall apart when neither side understands the other as well as they could.

Agencies may not understand that, for the marketing director, working with the agency is a fraction of their time and that they have many other issues to deal with.

Clients may not understand how difficult it is to produce great work or deal with, say, conflicting time schedules. Secondments, even if they are just a couple of days, help each side learn about the other and the pressures they are under.

Last updated 22/10/2013

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