To be a good client, advertisers need a clear ambition for media

Advertisers need to be transparent with their agencies, while watching carefully for how agencies might seek to manage their relationships between 'priority' and 'other'.

by David Indo

A good client gets the best out of their agency. A good client has a trusting relationship with their media partners. A good client uses media to drive business performance.

A good client is sadly rarer than it should be.

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What makes a good client has evolved over time. In these challenging yet dynamic times, it requires a far greater sense of partnership and collective responsibility than it did perhaps four or five years ago. It’s no longer simply good enough to approve a plan and then rely on your media auditing partner to track the prices and raise a flag if they spot anything unusual.

Fundamentally, however, the framework of “good” hasn’t changed. As we’ve outlined in the new ISBA Best Practice Guidelines on Media Agency Management, despite the growing complexity of the media landscape and fragmenting agency scopes, being good means being disciplined with agency management/media governance to ensure your agency is engineered to deliver better value.

Such clarity helps build trust in the relationship, and that comes down to a belief that both parties are driven and aligned by a transparent set of behaviours that are focused on generating long-term, mutual business growth.

The most effective brand leaders fundamentally believe that the right media agency partner, focused in the right ways, will have a critical and positive impact on the value created from a media investment.

At the same time, an agency leader will see their ability to maximise media value on behalf of their clients as it relates to the principles that define those relationships.

Our experience tells us that the distribution of that media value is inconsistent. While some “priority” clients get access to the best agency talent, tools and pricing, other advertisers remain trapped in a downward spiral of poor resourcing, bad media decision-making and opaque trading and commercial practices.

The divide is explained by the “art” of agency management. From poor briefing to sloppy contracts to weak remuneration models, advertisers that struggle with agency management often do so because they haven’t given consideration to the full spectrum of activities that contribute to productive advertiser-agency relationships.

Priority clients, on the other hand, are successful because of a combination of status and behaviour. Status covers factors like an advertiser’s overall spend, size, fees and brand perception. Behaviour, which is arguably more important, relates to all areas of good agency management, including briefing quality, agency performance management, ways of working and respectfulness, underpinned by a belief that media is an investment and seen as an important lever for business growth.

Boosting your priority status means focusing on the internal and external behaviours that result in additional value from agency partnerships.

It might seem counterintuitive, but effective agency management should begin with an inward, rather than outward, focus. This is because poor relations with the agency are often the result of internal misalignment between stakeholders, inconsistent communication and inefficient ways of working.

Two factors are critical: first advertisers need a clear ambition for media. This is usually a single statement with a set of underlying principles that describes what media means to your business and why it matters. This should be the acid test for everything you do but it is surprising how few advertisers believe they have an ambition for media capable of unifying stakeholders.

Secondly, there needs to be a razor-like focus on the critical day-to-day behaviours that contribute towards effective agency management. For most marketers, the process of briefing and evaluating agency work represents a core activity and a large part of their total communication with the agency. At the same time, it is often an area that advertisers struggle to get right, leading to poorly executed campaigns and lost media value.

The way brand leaders handle briefing is hugely illustrative of their belief in the power of media as a business growth driver. When you review the agency’s strategic and executional recommendations, do you refer to the original brief? Do you check that the agency has provided a clear explanation of how the briefed objectives will be met? Do you challenge these recommendations and demand agreement on KPIs, success measurement criteria, as well as regular reviews and optimisation? The good client does all of these things.

Agencies thrive with a good client because they have clear guard rails in place that enable them to marshal their efforts in pursuit of the brand’s business goals. Poor clients create a relationship masked by ambiguity and lack of understanding.

The bottom line is that the good client gets better media value, regardless of the scale of brand they work for and the budget they have. Anyone can be a good client, so why isn’t everyone?

David Indo is chief executive, advisory, of ID Comms