Points North: James Kirk, Strategy Director, Kaleidoscope

David Prior's picture
by David Prior

Each Friday, Points North gives a senior media figure a platform to air their views on a topical or relevant issue.

This week it’s James Kirk, Strategy Director at Liverpool agency Kaleidoscope. He argues that amid the tech and data of the modern world, there remains a key role for traditional values in the client/agency relationship.

Agencies are continually being challenged to adapt to the evolving needs of the modern marketing landscape.

Amidst a relentless pursuit for new thinking, new operating models and new tech, is there a risk that the modern client-agency model is overlooking an incredibly valuable cornerstone of business – trusted, personal relationships? As such, is the thirst for 'the new’ being placed ahead of traditional business values? And if it is, at what cost?

The increasingly transactional and metrics-driven nature of the client-agency model provides a number of clear benefits, and some are quite difficult to argue against.

By commissioning agencies on a smaller project-by-project basis and introducing performance-based remuneration models, clients are able to drive costs down, keep agencies on their toes and encourage honesty. The move towards a data and tech driven mindset provides further opportunity for increased transparency through highly visible and accessible reporting on campaign performance and value. It all seems sensible, right?

But what about the value of agencies truly understanding a client's business, their long-term ambitions and the top-table agenda? Can this new model deliver this?

To achieve that, you need to provide flexibility for people to build relationships with one another. That requires room upfront for people to meet, understand each other and build on great chemistry. After all, we are real people who still need to be able to work together and mutually respect each other.

Beyond the throes of the initial procurement process, there also needs to be an allowance for a strong relationship to be fostered and recognised so that a trusting, positive and collaborative working environment can be established.

Of course, the days of commissioning agencies on lucrative, long-term contracts are long gone. And quite rightly too. Relying on relationships alone is a dangerous place, with complacency and a lack of innovation often creeping into such arrangements. Furthermore, it is an indication of how the role of an agency is no longer front and centre in the mind of today’s marketers. The world is a little more complex than it used to be.

So, where next?

The IPA's ‘ADAPT’ programme has recently been exploring this issue, as it strives to achieve "better commercial creativity" on behalf of clients and agencies, bringing a new set of working principles to the fore. The scale and depth of ‘ADAPT’ shows how big this challenge is and that a solution can’t be developed overnight.

For me, as a strategically minded marketer I love nothing more than a great process, with logic and rationale to back up decision-making. So I am a real advocate for the modern metrics-driven outlook. It makes a lot of sense.

However, after over a decade of working both client-side and within independent agencies, I have also seen the incredible value that traditional, more subjective personal relationships bring to the table.

So, is there a way that the old can be combined with the new? I believe we have to find a way to achieve this for the benefit of everyone, to ensure that our industry moves forward in a progressive, yet personal way.