Unearthing the real value of an agency to brands

Is the traditional agency model dead? Big boys such as WPP are looking to restructure following a 1.7% slump in sales – attributed to FMCG giants reducing their digital spend and the number of agencies they’re using. This shift is happening industry wide, and so agencies need to respond and evolve. But how? And will other brands begin to follow suit?

This was the focus for debate at the DMA event hosted at the BLY offices in September, with our own Dwain Thomas as the chair.



“Marketing is changing and agencies can’t keep pace” (Marketing Week 25th May 2017)

“Agency structures, processes and pace of delivery are not developing at the same rate as a brand’s needs” (Creative Brief Survey)

This is not necessarily ‘the fault’ of agencies. Brands are struggling to work out how to talk to customers and how to structure their teams.

Dr. Mario Vafeas, Senior Lecturer of Marketing, and Professor Tim Hughes, Professor of Applied Marketing (both from Bristol Business School UWE) presented their findings to us, from four years of research into the client and agency relationship.

This research, carried out with representatives from both client and agency side, explored the question ‘What do clients want from their marketing agencies?’. The findings showed that, although clients expectations of what their agency can deliver and at what cost can be unrealistic, what is most important is honesty and insight.

Clients want their agency to be completely transparent with them on everything. They also want their agency to completely understand their industry and to be able to provide insight and creativity that can’t be delivered in house, to give them competitive advantage. This is where the value of an agency really is.

The panel debate with Nick Moir, Head of Marketing at Andrews Property Group, Kevin Mason, Planning Director at Proctor and Stevenson and Dr Mario Vafeas, discussed the changing environment, how clients and agencies can deal with these changes, and how clients and agencies can work together in the most effective way.

Some key points made by the panel and the audience included:

Clarity and education around the briefing process is required, but should this be paid for or be invested time?
Liking your contacts at the agency and having a good relationship with them is sometimes as important as the quality of work they deliver. Clients and agencies want a collaborative partnership.
Retainers and having all your work with one agency can be somewhat old fashioned. It’s good to work with different agencies with different skills – as long as everyone communicates effectively.
It was hard to agree on how the cost of generating ‘big ideas’ or ‘creative thinking’ should be paid for – it probably comes down to each individual project.

Most of the fundamental qualities of a good client/agency relationship are the same as they always have been: understanding, good communication, respect and honesty. It’s what an agency can offer a client as a service that’s changing.

At BLY we’re ensuring that our clients benefit from innovation and change leadership that can realise the customer experiences that their target audiences demand. And this is only the beginning.