Better client-agency relationships deliver better work. Fact.

Using two unique and robust sets of data there is now proof that client-agency teams with better relationships produce more effective work.

Effectiveness report

The implications of our latest report are profound for marketers and their agencies, and arguably for any business relationship.

Our analysis of winners of effectiveness awards over a 9-year period discovered that award-winning client and agency teams had better relationships than the average.

The research also identified three vital characteristics of award-winning teams, and provided insight into how relationships can be improved to create gold-standard work.

How did we come to these conclusions?

At Aprais, we have long felt the strength of relationship between marketer and agency correlates with effective work. By using unique datasets, our research has now provided concrete proof as well as highlighted three key areas where these relationships excel.

The research project cross-matched effectiveness award winners worldwide from WARC’s Effective 100 – including all Effie awards – with Aprais’ global database of more than 25,000 client-agency evaluations over 20 years.

This produced a sample set of 282 evaluations of agencies that went on to win effectiveness awards, and 278 evaluations of award-winning client relationships.

We then compared scores from this sample set with scores from the entire Aprais database and discovered 68.1% of awarded agencies and 66.5% of awarded clients in the sample set had above-average scores.

The key attributes of better relationships

Using Aprais’ database, our analysts then broke down these scores to look at individual disciplines like creative, account management, media buying and planning, and strategy to see where award-winners excelled.

Among winning clients and agencies, strategy scored clearly higher when compared with the Aprais average.

In our definition, strategy encompasses qualities including demonstrating long-term strategic vision, clients allowing agencies every opportunity to learn about the brand and its organisational structure, and agencies working with clients to convert consumer insights into relevant, effective and proprietary brand and communication strategies.

According to Amy Rodgers, head of content for WARC Creative, WARC’s annual Future of Strategy research repeatedly finds that strategists feel under-valued. Listen to the WARC podcast on this topic here.

This new research adds a proof point to strong strategy and planning producing effective results – good news for the strategists out there.

How do award-winners behave?

Aprais also identifies seven behaviours common to all companies and job roles that impact the effectiveness of client-agency relationships, which are: accountability; challenge; communication; functional; goals; trust; and resilience.

Winning team behaviours
Winners compared with 25,000 Aprais evaluations

Award-winning clients and agencies had higher scores across all behaviours and trust emerged as remarkably important. This correlates with data from Aprais showing trust is consistently the highest-scoring behaviour among the best agencies and clients.

Challenge was the area in which award-winning teams showed the greatest increase in scores. This again correlates with data from Aprais showing challenge has become more demanded of marketers and agencies over the last decade.

Obviously, effort is required on both sides to achieve improvements in any relationship. Agencies too need to step up and ensure they are delivering thoroughly and professionally against the scope of work. Behaviours too need to align with their best-in-class peers.

In a business context, challenge requires courage. This is particularly difficult for agencies in cultures where a master-servant relationship with suppliers and subordinates is business as usual. Marketers in those cultures need to see that working with the agency as a true partner can yield results.

At a broader level, there is a clear correlation between the evaluation scores client and agencies give of each other – the better the client scores, the better the agency scores. In short, clients get the agencies they deserve.

A few tips to enable award winning teams

Here are four questions for clients seeking relationships that lead to award-winning work:

  1. Do I truly believe that client-agency relationships should be a partnership as opposed to a master-servant relationship?
  2. Do I accept that opening up to finding out new things about my organisation could be the best way to ensure that it learns what it needs to do to get the best out of the other party?
  3. Do I embrace the statistical robustness of large scale data and external benchmarking to underpin confident decision making?
  4. Am I committed to acting on the findings and investing the necessary resource in terms of time, people and /or money to ensure meaningful progress is made?