Sir Martin Sorrell has claimed that the WPP holding company "team" concept often is better for servicing clients than individual agencies leading the process. He may be right. While other major holding companies allow each of their agencies to manage their own client business they also, when necessary, draw from their various agency holdings to create a team if it seems the best way to work with a particular client. But what Sir Martin has done, is worked at getting away from the inter-agency politics of holding companies. And that's a big deal. Here's why.
Clients have told Drexler/Fajen & Partners, that among many needs and requirements, their biggest problem is working with several agencies to coordinate and collaborate on marketing solutions. Much of this has to do with multiple-agency "ownership" of a client's piece of business. And how much each agency, that's called upon by the lead agency, gets paid to make their individual profit margin. Egos also get in the way. However, there seems to be three essential elements to what is absolutely necessary for agencies to achieve the best results for clients: (1) Customized expertise to provide the most relevant problem solving, (2) Real integration of resources to leverage all agency assets and (3) Full scope of capabilities to bring all that is required to the client's business. And to price all services at an affordable, consolidated basis. That is what Martin Sorrell figured out when he created the holding company team. And, in many ways, the independent agencies that continue to compete with those from holding companies, also understand that these ingredients are critical to every client's business. (It remains to be seen how the Publicis/Omnicom merger works out.)
There are other factors required by agencies, of course. Among them top talent, pricing and cost control, client relationship and servicing, performance monitoring, etc. But what is sought after most often by a client is "am I getting best of breed"? And that's where agencies have to demonstrate that their people, their resources and their operating philosophy delivers the best results.
It has also been said that the team concept does not give the creative people what they want most. And that is to work on many different pieces of business with many different clients. In some cases this may be true. But if a client really enjoys working with a particular creative team he or she wants that dedication to their business. Not sporadic involvement. And many creative people really get great satisfaction working with a particular client because they keep gaining knowledge and understanding of the clients business as consumer preferences shift and new opportunities and applications present themselves. Particularly in the digital environment. Commitments don't always last forever. Job changes, promotions and other incentives (on both the client and agency side) will create change and no client realistically expects life-long devotion from any agency person. So forget that shibboleth.
A more important observation, often heard, is that the CMO or Procurement officer doesn't really understand the inner workings of an agency. That is probably true in many cases and that's where a consultant, particularly if the consultant has lived on the agency side and worked with many clients and structures can be valuable. Knowing how agencies work, how they charge and how they can create the infrastructure to achieve maximum performance with measureable results will help get at some of these issues.
Mike Drexler is Co-Founder and Managing Partner at Drexler/Fajen & Partners a media consulting and agency review firm. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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