Gideon Spanier highlighted in the Evening Standard on 19th July that the most successful creative agencies were built on long-term client relationships.
The focus was on the advertising industry and cited example agency/client relationships such as AMV and Sainsbury’s (30 years plus), DDB and Volkswagen (50 years plus) and JWT and Shell (47 years). These large agencies don’t fit the Alchemis client base profile, but it is interesting to view the reasons why these relationships have withstood the test of time. The usual statements and parallels are made – “The secret of success is as simple and as hard as in marriage” (Stephen Woodford – Chief Executive of DDB). Cilla Snowball (what a fantastic surname!) of AMV says “the relationship, the work and the output have to be bigger than the individuals at any point in time”. Nigel Bogle of BBH said of the departure of the Levi’s account that it felt like “your arm has been cut off”.
These are all the things a client of any agency would want to hear, but what does it actually mean? Of course you work hard for your clients and losing one is a painful experience. Whilst it is not common at Alchemis, we do lose clients from time to time, and it is gut wrenching when it happens. However, reading between these slightly clichéd comments, the article, in fact, does capture the essence of a strong working relationship which applies to the Alchemis/Client relationship as well. An open, honest approach with constant evaluation and evolution is fundamental. An agency should never get complacent. There are numerous others out there with enthusiasm and fresh ideas waiting to grab that account, so you need to stay focused and constantly supply innovative, quality output. However, therein lies the opportunity. “The average client-agency relationship is only four and a half years” highlights Snowball. With the scale of creative requirement in the UK, that means opportunities for our clients. If incumbents get complacent, don’t quite deliver as they have before, or the company requires a new approach/change in direction and a new way of communicating, we need to ensure that our clients are in place to win that business and that is what Alchemis is good at. We have the tools and processes plus high quality New Business Managers to ensure that we are speaking to those prospects at the right time.
I don’t want to sound too sceptical, but I do think the article needs to be taken with a pinch of salt. These 30 year plus relationships are great and show that the agencies involved must be producing quality output. However, these are “glamour” accounts. There is no doubt that the agency will ensure involvement from the top level. These clients will win that agency new business and as a result don’t want to be lost at any cost. However, is that the case for all of the clients under that agency banner? With independently owned and run companies, senior (owner) level involvement is the norm on each and every account. Livelihoods depend on it. That is the case for 99.9% of Alchemis clients (and most other small to medium sized agencies), but it really is something that prospects like to hear when being courted by a new agency.