Initiative’s global CEO, Mat Baxter, recently voiced his opinion to WARC that some agencies had become punching bags for clients, bowing to every unreasonable demand just to keep business.
He urged agencies to be more proactive, instead of passive, grow some teeth, and say no to clients with unreasonable demands, particularly when it came to pitching and the long wait for remuneration for services rendered.
But do South African agency executives agree with Baxter’s views? The Media Online spoke to Marc Taback (CEO of Initiative SA), Chris Botha (group managing director of Park Advertising), Ana Carrapichano (founder and CEO of Mediology) and Ilan Lazarus (managing partner of PHD) to find out. Here are their insights:
Q: Do you think South African agencies have been punching bags for clients and do they need to grow teeth?
Taback: Yes, in some cases – especially during pitches. However, if you have a solid, honest and respectful partnership with your clients they understand the media process and will never use media agencies as punching bags.
Botha: It depends on your relationship I guess. For the most part I don’t think so. I believe we work with our clients as partners. If you do average work that commoditises you, you will be treated like a commodity supplier. If you do great work that makes you an important business partner, then you are an important business partner and is treated as such. If you need to rely on “teeth” to get what you want, I think you are on the wrong foot already. Mature discussions around expectations and deliverables is what we find works best, and prevents any “punching bags” being required.
Carrapichano: Strong words are used here but I do believe media agencies need to stand up and make our case heard. Our job as media people is to help solve marketing problems, and if we know how to do our jobs well, we can add tremendous value to our clients’ bottom line.
We go out of our way to help clients and do the very best we can to help them achieve their business results, but we have to push back if we feel we are being treated unfairly. We can’t compromise our people as we want good staff health, and excellent media skills are hard to find. The role a media person plays is critical to the success of the marketing mix. Clients should hold onto great media people and great media agencies. We do work very hard for our income!
Lazarus: I think this is relevant to South Africa. Margins are typically declining with costs increasing across the board, putting pressure on agencies to safeguard current relationships and having to accept sometimes unreasonable pressure from clients. If the media agency’s output is solid and adds value to the client’s business, they will gain respect and are less likely to be a “punching bag”. It’s for the media agencies to demonstrate their worth.
Q: Do you think the nature of the agency client relationship dictates that clients are able to hold agencies to ransom, as agencies need business and will bow to any whims of clients?
Botha: If you walk through the milk aisle in your local Shoprite, and you see five bottles of milk, they all look exactly the same. They all have the same product inside. Which one will you in all likelihood buy? The cheapest one! Agencies haven’t differentiated themselves enough, so clients have been able to hold them to “ransom”. It is not the client’s fault! If we differentiate ourselves, know, demonstrate and protect our value – NO ONE can hold you to ransom. Stop blaming the client for your inefficiencies.
Carrapichano: Times are tough and I am sure all agencies, be it media or creative, have to do what it takes to keep clients happy. The relationship should be about mutual respect and professionalism. Many of my industry colleagues, across media and creative agencies are concerned about the level of “hire & fire” that seems to underlie stepping out of line! Loyalty is not what it used to be.
Lazarus: Again, if agencies demonstrate their value to clients, they will be less likely to be held to ransom. It’s all about offering the right expertise and adding value to their business. Technology is already changing the role of the media agency and it’s imperative that we adapt to ensure we remain relevant. As an example, we now offer media mix modelling, response modelling and data integration.
Taback: Only if you have a poor relationship with your clients or if media agencies accept unreasonable requests and demands – especially during the pitch process.
Q: What is your reaction to Baxter calling for agencies to say no to unreasonable requests from clients? Is this being done enough in South Africa?
Carrapichano: I agree that agencies should say no to unreasonable requests. A lot has to do with education, respect and open conversations.
As for pitches, there has to be a better way to win business. I find it disheartening that huge amounts of work go into pitches and at the end of the day it comes down to remuneration – the commercial side wins! Why was there a technical side then?
I recently had a meeting with a pitch agency to formally complain about a pitch process they ran. We had a tough pitch month followed by strategic presentation to a large client team. Out of 25 to 30 people on the client side, majority of them were on their phones or computers during the presentation. We found this utterly disrespectful and abusive – after a month of work, we had two hours to get the work across and the client team was not focused. It was evident from the score card that most of the players hadn’t been listening to the presentation. That is where I draw a big fat line!!
Lazarus: Pitches are still a concern, as it appears that procurement continues to dominate the decision-making and pitches continue to be won on cost. If cost is the ultimate factor, then this should be stated upfront and the pitch process can be shortened. This would be fair for the agencies.
Taback: Absolutely agree! We need to push-back and say no unreasonable requests from clients. Again, this should not happen if you have a brilliant, respectful partnership with your clients. I don’t think this is being done enough in South Africa – especially pre, during and post the pitching process.
Botha: I would hope so! If a partner/client makes an unreasonable request – then yes surely – you need to stand up and discuss this. If you don’t address the matter then it will continue. But I don’t think “addressing the matter” needs to be seen as “showing teeth”. It needs to be seen as partnering, and openly discussing expectations and challenges.
Follow Michael Bratt on Twitter @MichaelBratt8
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