Injeel Moti, Managing Director, Catch Communications talks about how the pandemic changed the way agency-client relationship.
Agencies, whether creative, communications or digital have come out of the pandemic quite different from what they entered in as. One way to put it would be agencies are the new ‘problem solvers’ for various businesses in the region. The marketer’s remit has become more complex over the past year and agencies have had to evolve, quite rapidly to keep up. So what does the new client-agency relationship look like? Let’s discover.
The Current State
There’s no denying that the client-agency relationship has undergone tremendous stress over the past year. Contracts and deliverables have had to be re-negotiated, new objectives were set, new points of contact established and redundancy or resignations removed familiar faces on both sides. All this while budgets were cut or retained while commercial arrangements underwent stringent reviews, resulting in agencies having to prove their value addition every step of the way.
Much like the pandemic, the rate of change around us today is unprecedented. Clients are alot of more careful when deciding to invest towards marketing their business. Their approach towards their operations have changed, therefore how they approach marketing and what channels they actually invest in has too and is largely dictated by, what is trending and delivering results.
There has been a rise in the ‘instant results’ culture, where clients demand to see results in a 30-60 day time frame post the launch of a campaign. Results may vary from sales numbers, engagement, social media followers and various other metrics. This presents itself as a challenge as with any effective communications strategy, longevity and consistency are key. Moreover, clients often freeze and unfreeze retainer contracts due to budget limitation which in return ends up doing more harm than good.
The Silver Lining
There has also been an increase in transparency over the past year. Clients no longer feel the need to obscure business challenges from their agencies and prefer to have an open dialogue, discussing everything from low sales figures, customer feedback, business plans and how can marketing can play a part in supporting their objectives effectively.
Strategy meetings today involve discussing a lot more than just marketing led briefs. It’s a combination of many things from - budget reductions, the need for transparency/flexibility, in-housing marketing and comms staff to a crowded digital space and ever evolving platforms, depending on the client and their situation.
Clients require more agency time than ever, given the sheer scale of work that needs to be done, redone, strategized and re-strategized. Agencies are having to strategize for changing business models, going from mono to omni channel overnight.
Measurement of success and presenting ROI with each campaign has also changed quite a lot and the age-old industry standards, followed by agencies in the region do not hold as much weightage today. Success is measured via response rate, type of response, impressions, engagement, views and various other metrics which are both immediately accessible and easily available to both agencies and clients.
Direct response campaigns have shifted. We’re in a constant process with clients of trying new creatives and moving to whatever works best. With limited budgets in most cases, the need to constantly come up with creative ways that are both cost effective and executable take up a fair amount of time for agencies.
For agencies that represent smaller businesses, run by independent owners, comes a whole new set of challenges. In most cases, smaller businesses do not have dedicated marketing spends, which means any and every campaign carried out needs to deliver an ROI, which is both essential and tricky. One way to navigate this is by developing closer, empathy-based relationships, advising the client every step of the way and sharing expertise on how a particular activity would add value.
With briefs becoming more and more business oriented, the agency is no longer playing solely in the communication or marketing space. There's a much larger role to play and it involves solving wider client business problems and opening the door to become 'purveyors of growth'.
The Way Forward
Business across the board have huge targets to meet in 2021, which means having a strong partnership with their agency is an absolute must. To do this, clients must ensure that their agency relationship reaches and then stays in the trust phase for as long as possible - and this means being proactive and continually ‘refreshing’ the expectations for the relationship with clear guidelines and consistent communication.
Agencies and brands need to focus on core goals, shift their messaging, shift platforms to follow what’s working, whilst maintaining honest and consistent communication with one another.
Opinions in this piece belongs to the author.