How client-agency relationships are affected by business category

When we compare the average scores given by clients of their agencies and agencies of their clients, it is clear that not all client-agency relationships are created equally. As the chart below shows, the sector in which the client and agency operate can lead to significant differences in scores.

Comparing the client-agency evaluation scores across business categories
Comparing the scores of marketers and agencies across specific business categories. Source: Aprais 2021

Click here to download a report on any of the categories listed above.

Why the difference?

There are several possible reasons why marketers and agencies in a particular sector score each other lower. It could mean that the marketers and agencies in this category are harder to please, or that the category itself is simply a more demanding category.

Take the Beauty & Personal Care sector above for example. Our data indicates fairly low scores both by agencies and their clients. We all know that this is a high involvement category, and often a carefully considered purchase. By contrast, lighter purchase decisions such as drinks (soft and alcoholic) and confectionery seem to enjoy more generous scores. In certain categories, the nature of the product or the absolute value of the purchase add gravity to the purchase decision. Could we deduce that this gravity also puts pressure on the teams who market them?

Understanding the client-agency relationship in Beauty & Personal Care - report
One of ten reports in our 2021 category series. Source: Aprais 2021

Using our extensive data to benchmark in this way is clearly a useful exercise. However, we need to be mindful that unique challenges exist in some sectors that don’t affect others – the labyrinthine regulatory requirements marketers in the healthcare category must navigate, for example.

That said, our data does reveal some general scoring trends. Overall clients tend to score their agencies less favourably than agencies score their marketer clients. There are many reasons for this, and the most obvious is that agencies are unwilling to be too critical of their paying clients for fear of upsetting them and possibly jeopardising the business.

Such fears are more prevalent in countries where master-servant relationships between businesses and their supplier partners are common.

Furthermore, some cultures seem to score more generously than in other parts of the world. In North America both clients and agencies tend to score each other higher.

Improving team behaviour

There are however, clear opportunities for both agencies and clients to improve their performance through behavioural change, regardless of category. These opportunities are richer and more complex than the functional attributes – ‘doing the job’.

We’ve identified seven behaviours that we believe are most important to client-agency teams. These behaviours are not role-specific and can be applied to any teams in any business. They are:

  1. Challenge – the ability of teams to use their initiative to challenge the status quo.
  2. Accountability – how well the team sets and takes responsibility for actions and decisions.
  3. Communication – a regular dialogue to ensure timely sharing of facts and information.
  4. Goals – the clarity of the team’s objectives and how this is measured.
  5. Functional – good old-fashioned ‘doing the job’.
  6. Trust – including whether the team behaves with integrity.
  7. Resilience – the ability of a team to withstand, and bounce back from, a crisis. It’s become a new team performance standard across the board.

Download our free report ‘Seven behaviours that set the best client-agency relationships apart from the rest’

Comparing the best and the worst

In order to uncover opportunities for teams to improve, we compare the behaviours of top and bottom performing teams as evaluated in the Aprais system.

Coming back to the Beauty & Personal Care category identified earlier, the graphs below compare the seven behavioural traits of the top (10%) performing client and agency teams with the bottom 10% in the Beauty & personal care category. This reveals the potential for improvement for each. The larger the gap, the greater the opportunity for each to contribute toward a better relationship.

How to improve team behaviours in the Beauty & personal care category
Top 10% vs. bottom 10% in the Beauty & Personal Care category. Source: Aprais 2021

What our data indicates is that in this particular category, there is an opportunity for marketers (37) and their agencies (60) to improve their resilience. These are comparatively large numbers and suggest a major opportunity for poor performers to narrow the gap with the best. The data also tells us that agencies appear to want more trust (35) from their clients and clients would like to see more challenging (52) behaviour from their agencies.

The power of data like this is it demonstrates unequivocally that team performances can be improved through functional and behavioural change. This will come as welcome news to marketers who value relationships and know the cost and disruption caused by lengthy and expensive pitch processes. Often the relationships already established can be improved and go on to produce better work, without starting all over again from scratch with a new agency.

In fact, our data also shows that clients and agencies that undergo regular evaluations consistently score one another higher over time, demonstrating that paying attention to the relationship itself, as well as the work produced and other functional measurements, will lead to improvements and increased satisfaction for both parties.