The Best Relationships are Long Term, Stable and usually Monogamous…..aren’t they?

We attended the Marketing Society breakfast this week, where there was a lot of talk about client agency relationships. Everyone seems to agree that relationships still matter. More than that, great relationships lead to great work. And, of course, great work leads to company growth and who doesn’t want that, right?

These deep, loving relationships between client and their agency partner of choice sound great. It’s a Utopian world, where both parties value the relationship equally and therefore are willing to invest in it.

In this relationship nirvana, both clients and agencies foster a culture where the behaviours of trust, honesty and transparency are valued, and displayed, and both teams work in a true partnership.  It is widely acknowledged that these behaviours create a safe environment from which great work will naturally emerge.

So topical are agency-client relationships that just last week the global head of marketing for Nissan was also talking about them and how they need to change to be ‘fit for purpose’ in this new world in which we operate – with data-driven marketing, mobile first, new media channels and the ‘customer in control’. 

What’s the problem with agency-client relationships?

Why do agencies and clients appear to be struggling to get it right? Well one hypothesis is that the Utopian world outlined above is probably pretty easy to achieve if you are in a single relationship – which would allow you to create stability, build trust over the long term and, of course, be monogamous.

Sadly that’s not reflective of the way we work today. Clients have multiple agencies across the different disciplines, from creative, social media, media, through to digital and beyond. Double figures are not unusual.  

What we’re actually saying to our agency partners in this scenario is not just ‘get into bed with me and play nicely for the long term’ but ‘share the bed - and me - with 7 or 8 others and play nicely with all of us’.

How realistic is a polygamous agency-client relationship?

We know that agencies all have their own P&L to grow, we know that their service offerings often overlap and we know they all have a vested interest in being the ‘lead’ agency. And they’re all fearful of being thrown into a pitch situation at any moment. 

A lack of monogamy and stability doesn’t bode well for those long-term, deep relationships that deliver great work, does it?

It was mentioned at the Marketing Society event that we may be looking at a cyclical return to the full-service agencies of the 70s and 80s and, indeed, that this might be the solution to the issue we face.

Rod de Vries of Nissan believes there’s another solution.

Clients need to walk the walk of ‘one team’. They need bring their agency partners in house, share goals and objectives and do proper data integration. They need to develop a living and adaptive Marketing Communications cycle that delivers learning and insight development opportunities which can then used by the wider team.

And finally, he wants all holding companies to kill individual P&Ls from their specialist agencies to support this deeper integration. 

What are your thoughts? Are you up for long term, stable and monogamous?