What's the future of the client-agency relationship?

Charlie Spargo's picture
Joe Chetcuti, Front

Joe Chetcuti, Director of Front, says complexity has become the norm in agencies, despite the need for simplicity in the field. Agencies, he says, need to treat themselves like they would a client, and emphasise creativity and simplicity.

The purpose of creative agencies has always been to communicate singular thoughts to a mass group of people. And this is for two reasons: One, a singular message has more chance of getting through; and secondly, a singular action has more chance of being carried out.

You’d expect that in our ever more complex world that there would be a great call for simplicity, but sadly not. The big consultancies are entering the market, digital delivery is used in place of good advertising, and the democratisation of photography, film and content has devalued some traditional agency services.

Complex is now a virtue. Indeed, confusing complexity is a business model for agency competitors.

So our constant battle with clients is convincing them that simplification of their offer to something that is singular, memorable, stand-out and actionable is always the right course of action. Yet clients are bombarded with the latest platforms, algorithms and formats, so being behind the curve, confused and inconsistent is perceived as a management norm.

It’s difficult to sell simplicity when the herd is charging towards the next unknown.

The traditional value of agencies becomes less relevant

In addition, there is a generation of marketeers who have never commissioned nor even worked with an agency. They have no need as they can create content with partners (or in-house) then define their audience and deliver the message to them at the click of a button.  

As the tech companies, data houses and consultancies move into the agency sector the traditional value of agencies and creating powerful simple messages become less relevant.

Reporting complexity and making thousands of tiny optimising tweaks is becoming the new currency; not powerful simplification.

So how should agencies act in relation to clients with these twin threats of hyper-personalisation and client-side control? Well, agencies need to take a leaf from their own book and they can do this by:

  1. Simplifying their offer: It must be about insight that leads to better ROI through creativity. The medium or latest tech is irrelevant. If the tech comes first, then you're simply not a creative agency, just a reseller.
  2. Using their consultative skills: There is vast experience in agencies. This must be used to help develop clients’ strategies from the ground up, not just at the pointy, advertising end.
  3. Selling creativity not process: Aligning an agency to the language and methods of technology may well make it look likes it’s competing with big data, but all it is doing is kowtowing to tech’s influence.

Agencies have to identify and communicate their value to clients, namely their experience, breadth of knowledge, independence from media, and understanding of the bottom line.  

If we’re not helping clients beat the competition then we’ll just be fighting over scraps.