Agencies Need To ‘Grow Some Teeth’

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Agencies should take a more “proactive” role in fighting their corner at a time of increased disruption in the industry, while also seeking to rebuild trust with clients.

Mat Baxter, global chief executive of Initiative – an agency within IPG’s Mediabrands unit – discussed this subject at the 4A’s (American Association of Advertising Agencies) 2019 Decisions 20/20 conference.

“Agencies need to flip from being passive to being much more proactive,” he said. (For more, read WARC’s in-depth report: Agencies need to “grow some teeth” to rebuild trust with clients.)

“We need to tackle some big things. Agencies let themselves be punching bags too often. We need a really strong will to fight the fight when it needs to be fought. I don’t necessarily think we do that very well as an industry.”

An example, for Baxter, is pushing back if attempts to win or retain business come with unreasonable expectations. “Just look at the pitching situation,” he said. “I commit to saying, ‘No’ to clients who ask me to do ridiculous things in pitches.”

Similarly, Baxter continued, the time agencies must wait to receive remuneration is onerous in the extreme. “We’re now being asked to work on 120-day payment terms. All these things are crazy,” he said.

Baxter’s message to the 4A’s forum: “Grow some teeth and be like the ANA [Association of National Advertisers],” the client-side trade organisation that has pushed for greater transparency throughout the marketing ecosystem.

In fact, trust – a primary ANA focus – is “the single most important thing advertising agencies need to get back. Without trust, without clients trusting what agencies do for them, all of these other things are fanciful dreams.”

For agencies, Baxter offered, regaining trust is requires recapturing the notion of “giving truly objective advice that is in the client’s best interest. That’s the cost of entry for a good relationship. But I think that [this] trust has eroded.”

Credit: WARC

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