Can financial management help agencies win effectiveness awards?

Analysis reveals that financial management is a secret weapon of European effectiveness award-winning agencies.

Financial management impacts marketing effectiveness

Here at Aprais, we’ve built our business on the premise that stronger relationships lead to better work.

Recently we proved this concept with a study of more than 1,800 winners of effectiveness awards globally as compiled by WARC. Using our database of more than 26,000 client-agency evaluations over 20 years, we discovered that effectiveness award-winning teams clearly have stronger relationships than the average. Good relationships are built on many factors, including the functional skills of both the agency and the client.

Effectiveness report
Download the report here.

Whilst we found many of the criteria for successful client-agency relationships are common globally, when we drilled down into the data for European teams, we found a surprising skill that clients value in their winning agency teams: financial management.

The data shows that clients in Europe strongly value the administrative fundamentals as a skill that leads to winning effectiveness awards. Strange? Not really – and here’s why.

The client-agency dynamic

Europe is a complex marketing region. Much like Asia Pacific, it combines markets of different cultures, languages, and levels of marketing sophistication. But there is a fundamental difference in the client-agency dynamic. In Asia Pacific, agencies tend to score their clients significantly higher than clients score their agencies.

By contrast in the US, both sides are extraordinarily complimentary of each other, and a score over 80 is quite common on both sides of the relationship.

In Europe we see more pragmatism. The agency is empowered to be more open and to help the relationship grow. We do sometimes see relationships where the scores for the client are lower than the agency but in many cases, the scores are much closer.

This pragmatism leads to more realistic evaluations that accurately reflect the mood of the moment. Comparing the global result of our analysis with the Europe-only data, the average score of European winning agencies is 4 points higher than the global average score and for European clients it’s about 2 points higher.

Essentially this means that the result for Europe is even more emphatic. Stronger client-agency relationships lead to a strong showing in the effectiveness awards.

Europe vs Europe

Even within Europe we observe different scoring tendencies depending on geography. Scores vary considerably from the Mediterranean to the frozen North.

Northern Europeans tend to score less favourably than their Southern counterparts. 

We also find that in major hubs such as London, Paris, Barcelona, Malmo, Berlin there are higher expectations of performance among clients and agencies.

Why financial management?

Our global analysis of award–winning teams revealed that areas in which winning agencies really excel over the norm include strategy and media buying. However, when we compare this with European agencies the result is surprising. As shown in the chart, among all the skills that differentiate the effectiveness award winning agencies, clients gave higher scores to financial management.

To explain this unusual finding we need to unpack the meaning of ‘financial management’. 

At Aprais we interpret ‘financial management’ to have a broader meaning.

Unlike other disciplines such as media buying, financial management isn’t linked to specific transactions.  Rather, good financial management involves making sure the process works, that invoices are timely and accurate, that the scopes of work are adhered to, and that project plans are on-budget.

It’s about making sure that invoices are timely and accurate, that the scopes of work are adhered to, and that project plans are on-budget.

It’s about good project management rather than a specialism such as media buying and is key to ensuring the efficiency of the relationship. These are admittedly niggly admin things, but they are potential disruptors of an otherwise harmonious relationship. When all else is going well, getting these fundamentals right can enable teams to focus on the work.

Agency views of winning clients

We have seen that the European client view of effectiveness award-winning agencies is different than the global result, but how about the agency view of clients?

While agencies do give marginally higher scores for award-winning European clients the difference from the average is less than we see at the global level.

What is interesting though is the significant gap in ‘strategic thinking’ between the European average and European winning clients. We discuss this in more detail in this blog piece.

How winning teams behave

Apart from the job specific skills or ‘disciplines’ as we call them, we also monitor behaviours common to all teams. The findings from award-winning teams in Europe reflect the global results.

Trust is the highest scoring behaviour among the seven we monitor but the behaviour that has the greatest difference between the winners and the average is ‘challenge’ – both Europe and globally.

We define challenge as ‘using initiative to challenge the status quo and not allowing conflict to go unaddressed.

In a business context, challenge requires courage. This tends to be easier in a more equitable client-agency relationship where both parties view the relationship as a partnership.

Advice for agencies

Given all of the above, we have a clear way forward for agencies looking to boost their awards cabinet in the area of effectiveness.

In order to close the gap on their award-winning contemporaries, agencies can consider the following five questions:

  1. Are we fulfilling (exceeding) all the promises made to the client when we won the business and since?
  2. Do we pay attention to the administration fundamentals to ensure this is efficient and professional?
  3. Is our team trained, empowered and supported to challenge the clients’ view to achieve the most effective result?
  4. Do we encourage regular, formal and objective evaluation of the client relationship?
  5. Are we 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?