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Successful agency-client ties: Mantras from India’s top 5 ad honchos - 2

Agency-client relationships, like any other relationship, need to be nurtured with deep mutual trust, a healthy dose of communication, commitment towards common business goals. 

In Part 1 of our feature report on Successful agency-client ties, Ashish Bhasin, Naresh Gupta, Sabah Iqbal, Joemon Thaliath, and Dhunji Wadia, had provided some interesting and deep insights on forming bonds that endure and the red flags to watch out for. 

In the second and concluding part of the report, these five senior advertising honchos peak about how to resolve differences that can emerge between clients and agencies, as well as planning for the long term. 

Resolving differences 

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network:

Communication and feedback are the best ways to resolve differences arising between agencies and clients. We started off in an era where agencies were generalists, one agency would try to satisfy all the needs of clients, and then gradually we moved into an era where specialisation started coming in. In today’s age, the clients not only need specialist, but super specialist teams. However, many a times agencies get caught where they give substandard services without building a real organisation and specialisation behind that, which leads to their own unravelling.” 

Naresh Gupta, CSO, Managing Partner at Bang in the Middle:
Communicating with each other and then arriving at a solution is the best way for a brand. In an agency-client relationship, there can be a difference of opinion, but there can’t be an ego issue. Eventually, the call has to be from clients.” 

Joemon Thaliath, CEO, FCB Interface:

“The magic word is ‘Communication’. When in action, it does all the wonders! Clear and effective communication can help bridge differences and bring things into perspective. Also, aligning and co-creating as early as possible in the brand/ communication development process is also a saviour during the shaky times that help in stabilising the dynamics.”  

Sabah Iqbal, Head - Account Management, Mumbai at DigitasLBi:

“Differences can be avoided by investing time in understanding where a client’s business growth comes from. Regular strategic conversations that go beyond reacting to everyday briefs would ensure clarity and an aligned vision for the brand. In a situation where a difference arises, both parties need to avoid dictating their points-of-view. Instead, they need to listen and understand each other’s individual rationales. Deploying an agency-client workshop at this point works really well. This would inevitably point them both in a common direction.” 

Dhunji Wadia, President, Rediffusion Y&R:
“Defining expectations and a crystal clear roadmap will lay the foundation base for all the work. This way, the client and agency will be on the same page and differences will be minimal.” 

Kundan Joshee, Senior VP, Cheil SWA:
“Talk. An open discussion always helps in knowing the point of view from both the partners! However to avoid such situations, it is preferable for both partners to convene more often, like every month, and nip any potential issue.”

Planning for the long term 

Ashish Bhasin, Chairman & CEO - South Asia, Dentsu Aegis Network:
“Maintaining long-term relationships with clients is very challenging, since it is being tested every single day. Agencies consistently need to deliver not just because they are contracted to do so, but also in evolving areas. For example, new media today is putting a lot of pressure on legacy agencies, who are basically comfortable doing 100cc print ads and 30-second TV ads. In today’s time, client’s needs are very different and have evolved, and agencies that haven’t evolved find it very difficult. It’s a fact we need to accept that today clients can have several partners because of specialisation. Our strategy for Dentsu Aegis Network Group is to get all the best in class specialists for our clients and offer them under one P&L, which has been a key factor in our success.” 

Naresh Gupta, CSO, Managing Partner at Bang in the Middle:

“It is very challenging in most cases. The change today is in the definition of long term. What is long term? Most client-agency relationship lives between two and three years today. The olden times of agencies handling brands for decades is slowly frittering out. Yet, there are many successful brand partnerships that are around for us to see. Consistently delivering work at the right price and you won’t have breakdown in the relationship.” 

Sabah Iqbal, Head - Account Management, Mumbai at DigitasLBi:
“Given that the market is flooded with niche players as well as full-service agencies, clients are finding it exceedingly difficult to decide which partner to select for which skill set. Hence, maintaining long-term relationships becomes a challenge. Therefore, agencies need to constantly evolve and adapt themselves to the needs of the market and build the relevant skill sets to be future ready.” 

Joemon Thaliath, CEO, FCB Interface:
“Effective communication is 20 per cent of what you know and 80 per cent of how you feel about what you know. Hence, maintaining long-term relationships is something that one needs to work towards, constantly whether it’s an agency-client or any other relationship. In my view, building partnerships and effective communication achieve the long term relationship goals and are extremely rewarding too!” 

Dhunji Wadia, President, Rediffusion Y&R:

“I believe in healthy partnerships. According to him, over 70 per cent of our business comes from clients who have been with us for over 5 years. Yet, at the same time, new clients join the family. New businesses account for 30 per cent of our mix. To me, that represents a healthy mix of existing clients reposing their faith in us and new clients becoming part of the family. The aim should be to develop a great plan to survive the constant pressures of deadline, meetings, reviews, reports, team management as well as managing differences.”

Kundan Joshee, Senior VP, Cheil SWA:

“One can say that in recent times it is quite challenging to have a long-term relationship that’s not a globally aligned one. Many of the old local relationships were based on individual equations and the testing competitive times have led many of them to a breaking point. Not only locally, the business pressures have also put the stress on many global relationships. With increasing competition and growing parity in all sectors, companies are increasingly leaning towards agencies to create brand pull and differentiation. The demand on creativity is too high to deliver on many fronts – likability as well as market share. Also, with multiple challenges being faced by the brands the client memories too are becoming short. Agencies can’t rest on past success for too long. 

The rise of boutique hot shot creative houses is also adding to the attraction for the clients to fish for new ideas. To create a culture of faith and partnership, the agencies need to strive harder towards adding value to the clients business. 

Three things I believe should be the cornerstone for any sustainable long term relationship: 

Constant Innovation to keep freshness: In these rapidly changing times, agencies need to constantly reinvent themselves and strive to add value by either quality of thought leadership to build brand value, showcase domain knowledge of new emerging areas and help clients navigate them or add new capabilities that can help the clients business. 

High commitment and involvement to client’s business: Like I said earlier, a spirit of partnership that’s reflected by leveraging the best talent and experienced people on the client’s brand. This will lead to a proactive culture rather than a reactive culture and will be beneficial for the relationship 

Invest in people: Talent is our strength. Constantly add diverse and strong talent to add value to clients business.”


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