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David Letterman’s top ten lists of funnies has garnered a lot of laugh’s over the years, however, a clients “top ten list of what annoys them” should be very enlightening to most agencies.

Aug 06, 2006 London recently hosted agency principals from over fifty Global marketing services The Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide (MAA), recently held their bi-annual meeting in London, England, with principals from over 50 global marketing services companies in attendance. The CEO’s were entertained by Gordon Steele, former head of marketing at the Royal Mail (our equivalent to the Canada Post / US Postal Service). In order to properly prepare, he called a number of clients, to get the goods on what really got under their skins about the agency relationship. A great question considering, most agencies are somewhat married to their clients in one form or another. “Understanding and exploring the client – agency relationship” topic proved to be the ideal platform to create the first ever “agency top ten list” of deadliest sins. Needless to say this encouraged the formation of the likes and dislikes of what goes on within these dynamic relationships. Given the fact that many of us spend as much time with our respective clients and/or agencies, as we do with our spouses, the need for a harmonious relationship is obvious. But, just how harmonious are these relationships?

In the interest of democracy and fair play, the agencies felt the need to respond with their own top ten list of things that clients did and for the sake of still having some clients after this article appears, it’s probably safer to use the term “marginally dislike”.

The 10 deadliest sins from a client’s perspective are:

Missing deadlines
Patronising juniors
Waiting in reception
Missing the brief
Awful pitches
Off the shelf solutions
Agency infighting
Not understanding the business
Meeting attendance
Quality control

It’s fair to say that each of the points are obvious, yet if you as an agency are guilty of any of them, then you are likely to have a short lived relationship. I have attempted to provide some conference insights behind each. Here we go;

Missing deadlines! In the world of promotional marketing, this is the deadliest sin. Regardless of the hurdles, if your agency has made a promise to deliver a promotion and sales has commitment money to the trade, then short of delivering on time, the results will be nothing short of catastrophic. Not only will you client’s reputation be in jeopardy within their organization, but this will have an immediate and long term effect on your relationship. For the most part, agencies believe execution to be a highly valued function provided, however, most clients consider execution a cost of entry, not necessarily a competitive strength. So don’t be late.

Patronizing juniors will not augur well for the long-term future of the agency. The client company has employed junior personnel to do a job and every company believes that every employee at the point of hiring has the potential to do great things for their organization. Senior client members expect agencies to interact with their team, in the same way you would interact with them and to coach them up in the best way possible along the way. Taking a less then positive approach with the junior members is another deadly sin.

Keeping your client waiting in reception is a no, no. Your client’s time is very precious to them, and the fact that they have actually committed to visiting your office for a meeting, demonstrated their commitment to the relationship, so don’t waste their time. And if you’re going to have someone else, greet them, please greet them warmly and efficiently on the way to the meeting room. Missing the brief is a waste of time for everyone. If a client has taken the time to prepare a brief then listen well, ask the right questions and ensure you have interpreted the brief before your start working on your response. If you’re not sure, then ask! It’s ok to challenge the brief, but don’t miss it.

Awful pitches. Ouch! We’ve all had one or more. Right from the get go, the harmony isn’t right, the body language is poor and the overall temperature in the meeting room is a bit frosty, your frame of mind suggests, heading to the pub to put everyone out of their misery.

Off the shelf solutions are boring for everybody. Tired of hearing the same solutions being thrown around at every creative brainstorming session? Yup. Insights will tell you that the first 25 ideas you think of are the boring, re-hashed rubbish and if you can stick the pain, then the juicy stuff will start to flow. There is an old saying my uncle taught me as a young boy, but it has served me well over the years, “The harder I work, the luckier I get”.

Agency infighting. Thankfully, I’ve not experienced this dynamic, but apparently it’s occurs frequently, just kidding. In the world of integration this is a factor to consider and plan properly for. Clients do not want to manage agency infighting, especially when two members of the agency team have a disagreement with each other in front of the client and the disagreement escalates. Not a great way of demonstrating your agencies ability to work as a team in the best interests of their business. Be a valuable team member on integrated projects.

Not understanding the clients business is a pretty destructive place to start. Information mining can be accelerated via to the net, to learn more and be able to ask the right questions during the agency briefing and as you work through the task. No one ever got fired for asking the right questions.

Poor punctuality does not give clients huge confidence. If you can’t deliver yourself on time what hope have you of delivering a project on time.
Quality control is critical and somewhat subjective in nature and worthy of debate. A typical situation, if artwork is sent to a client and it is approved and after printing it is found to contain an error – where does the ultimate responsibility lie? The client has employed the agency and thus renders the agency accountable for final result, be it delivery or quality control. So make sure the final results are excellent.

The Top Ten things that Agencies “marginally dislike” about Clients!

Pitching for a $50K budget
Repeat pitching after you have won the assignment
Being treated as a slave
Wasted work
False and unnecessary deadlines
Approval by committee
Scope creep
Dilution of the idea
Deliver regardless
no evaluation

Pitching for a $ 50,000 budget has always been a frustration amongst agencies. Most promotional marketing pitches cost approximately $ 10,000 in creative and executive time – really it does! If four agencies are pitching on a $ 50,000 budget with a normal margin of 20%, then the winning agency will have a tough time to make it pay out on a job shop basis. Consider, the time required to bring all the moving parts to the presentation boardroom? Validating the brief, crafting creative idea and writing the pitch presentation. When probed by agencies, the generally respond is “it’s a cost of doing business in a competitive environment” or “it’s a company policy to get three quotes for every assignment”. Hogwash! Any $ 50,000 pitch costs agencies money. Try this, assign these types of projects to your trusted agency partners for one year and discover the new found time saved, to focus on more exciting areas of your brands business.

Repeat pitching is unusual in most cases. This is where clients brief each project to a number of agencies in the belief that they are being fair to all while also recognising that they are getting fresh thinking all the time. It’s nonsense! The understanding and ideation that comes out of a long-term relationship is a far more effective use of everyone’s time.

Being treated as a slave is Mr. Steele’s way of saying that sometimes agencies take on more than a project when they work with a client. It’s ok when the right remuneration agreement is in place; otherwise it’s harmful to the relationship as it creates bitterness toward the client within the agency.

Wasted work is an enormous frustration. This is when a brief is issued and worked on by the agency and either at or after the presentation the client advises that they have decided not to implement any activity due to policy, politics or budgets. So, who pays?

Unnecessary deadlines have an instant and negative effect on the agencies ideation process. How often do you get a call and hear, “I have an important assignment for you and need your best strategic team to provide the strategic thinking to get the best ideation for my brand, however, I need it in 5 days! Wow! Consider this as a client, your president has just assigned you an important task, create an “out of the box” new and exciting “brand innovation” in 5 business days, does this seem fair? If it’s truly an important assignment, wouldn’t you want to give your agencies a fair crack at delivering a powerful idea, built on the heels of great strategic thinking? Sure you do!

Approval by committee suggests a lack of empowerment and initiative. One of my favorite sayings of all time is “you can tour all of the parks in the entire world and you will never find a statue dedicated to a committee”. Mr. Steele is not suggesting that consensus is unimportant but “precision in decision making does promote creativity rather than overt conservatism”. Scope creep is where the brief is for one thing and it turns out to be something much bigger. Rarely is this done on purpose but it is often after the budget and fees have been agreed, and of course there is rarely any further “scope” to allow for “budget creep”.

Dilution of the idea can seriously impact the effectiveness of your promotional campaign. This is when the big idea gets suppressed and by the time it reaches the point of implementation you might be better off starting the process all over again. How often have you heard from the client, that the program they captured their imagination way back in the boardroom, when executed didn’t do what they expected. Poppy cock! How could it, it’s not the same program.

Deliver regardless is not dissimilar to scope creep except this is critical path creep. Sure, the date for sell-out is six weeks away but if the programme isn’t signed off for four weeks is it realistic for the programme to be in-trade in two? Of course it is. It has to be!

No evaluation. It might come as a surprise to some clients but agencies need to understand the metrics behind the program. How else are we to improve on our agencies marketing effectiveness? Heck, this is the very thing that every CEO expects from their marketing head, accountability some form of measurable ROI. Help us to demonstrate our economics for your brand efforts.

By David Ploughman, CEO / President of the BSTREET Group of Companies, Toronto and PR Director for the Marketing Agencies Association Worldwide, in collaboration with Kieran Killeen, Managing Director of the Marketing Network, Ireland and Secretary of the Marketing Agencies Association.

The Marketing Agencies Association represents marketing services agencies (both aligned and independent) from around the globe and has over sixty corporate members consisting of promotional marketing agencies, research companies, activation and branding specialists. Further details available from