Opinion: Marketing Society - Where is the real deal?

Marketing readers feed on a rich diet of change. Accounts are always moving. The marketing executives who make agency appointments seem to switch jobs frequently. The life expectancy of an agency relationship? Three years at best.

Perhaps it is time we took stock of these relationships. Are they partnerships?

Not in the strictest sense. Are they purchaser/supplier situations? Literally, yes, but hopefully more than that. Will the parties sign a contract? Probably: 85% of ISBA members have contracts with their principal agencies. And what form will it take? Almost certainly some variant of the standard ISBA/IPA model. What will that contain? About 38 pages of provision for things going wrong, tempered with a detailed description of process.

Does it say that if the members of the client team who made the agency appointment are off, then so is the deal? No. Does it allow the client to walk away if the agency it selected changes beyond recognition? No.

The contract is also unlikely to contain heroic clauses about the reason the agency was appointed in the first place, which was presumably to help the client storm barriers and climb mountains.

After two decades on the agency side and 16 years trying to help clients and agencies make relationships as productive as possible,I believe what is really missing is a deal. I'm not talking about the purely financial aspect that is so important to the procurement people, but about the deals you find in business biographies. Big deals. Life-changing deals. Ambitious deals, with the heady aroma of win-win. Anyone can move an account. Any agency can win a piece of business. But are clients and agencies signing big hairy deals? No.

There is a big clue in the language used. Agency remuneration, payment by results, resource package fees, full-time equivalent people (FTE).

It doesn't sound like the language of deals. Showbiz stars don't get remuneration.

Football managers don't sign their squads on an FTE basis. Defence contracts are not agreed on resource package fees. Agencies have to be able to offer their clients care and maintenance, as well as change management. But the key deals obviously relate to the world of change management.

Most clients and agencies have some kind of evaluation system to measure service, performance and value. But are these systems adequate for the measurement of the success of the programmes for which the agency was hired in the first place? Client and agency are stakeholders in the outcome of these. Effectively, they are forming a strategic alliance. The terms of that alliance, the commercial arrangements that drive it, and the goals that are set need to be enshrined in a mutually agreed 'flight plan'.

Obviously, you still need aspects of the insurance policy. No client or agency can move forward without defining ownership of intellectual property, mutual obligations, termination provisions and so on. But the raison d'etre has to be a mutually agreed goal and what it's worth to the client if the agency helps pull it off. That's the deal.


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