Stay Together For The Work: Creating Lasting Brand – Agency Relationships In 2015


It’s difficult to avoid the romantic relationship metaphor when an agency and a brand decide to part ways. When an agency and a brand work together long enough, they form a co-dependant and symbiotic association; egos can’t help but be hurt when the split occurs.

Pessimists would say that the breakup is inevitable. Market forces, demands for specialization, changes in leadership and breakdowns in communication invariably lead to a client believing it could do better – or at least do the same, but for lower cost – with another partner.

Can these client-agency relationships be setup for long-term success rather than a quick break-up?

A Foundation Of Trust

Mike Fyshe of management consulting firm Reynolds & Fyshe, and former CEO of BBDO Canada, said that a “foundation of trust” is the most essential component of the brand-agency relationship. His firm carefully examines a wide range of components as part of their search and selection protocol, including talent, alignment and chemistry when matching-up brands and agencies.

“Respect, mutual goals, trust. This is where the most successful campaigns in history began,” he told the Dx3 Digest. “These are relationships in which the client looks to the agency as an extension of its marketing team, not just another vendor.”

Telus put a feather in the cap of pessimists when it put its agency partner of 18 years, Taxi, in review in February 2014. The breakup was not mutual. Taxi pitched for the business when it was in review, but Telus picked The&Partnership as its new agency of record.

“Calling a review and selecting a new agency is an expensive, risky, time consuming operation.”

Agency Musical Chairs

Later that year, a number of senior executives departed the agency and joined other agencies. In June, Taxi picked up Maxwell House account from Oglivy & Mather Toronto (without a review) in a case of agency musical chairs.

Telus' familiar campaign critters.
Telus’ familiar campaign critters.

Most agencies don’t get anywhere near 18 years of a client’s business. Fyshe notes that the average CMO lasts only 18 months in that position, and “they want to have agencies in place that they trust.”

For big Canadian brands, switching agencies seem to be in vogue as The Globe & Mail’s Susan Krashinsky wrote in June 2014:

The last couple of years has seen a large number of Canadian advertising accounts change hands, many of them long-held: Air Canada shifted its advertising business to JWT Canada after 27 years with Marketel, L’Oréal Canada ended a 15-year relationship with its media buying agency, and four of Canada’s Big Five banks have changed their ad agencies, as has Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

With so many people and moving pieces between the two companies, the breakdown can happen in any department – billing, creative, executive – and spread bad blood into another, Fyshe said.

Specialization & Procurement

The increasing agility and specialization needed for digital and social platforms have also played a role, as brands look for agencies that specialize in specific skills.

Getting the right agency from the start is the best way to avoid a switch a year and a half down the road. Fyshe looks at components like talent, alignment and chemistry when matching up brands and agencies.

“Calling a review and selecting a new agency is an expensive, risky, time consuming operation,” said Fyshe. “Getting the right advice and putting in place the right resources from the start is the best way to avoid an ugly divorce shortly down the road.”

Rogers went through a procurement review with its agency, Publicis, in spring 2014 but decided to maintain its seven-year relationship after receiving RFPs from 10 other agencies.

In 2014, in the midst of the Telus review process, Taxi CEO Rob Guenette told Marketing Magazine that it was difficult to receive the news that his client was considering other agencies.

“Intellectually, I understand it. Emotionally, it is hard,” he said.

About Ben Myers

Ben Myers is a creative digital marketer in Toronto. Contact through Linkedin or @benkmyers on Twitter.

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