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The relationship between advertiser and creative agency in Belgium

Chris Van Roey

Knowledge of the agency world

The average advertiser does not know the agency world very well and does not follow it up on a regular basis today. Within the framework of a pitch, there is of course urgency and interest to get to know other agencies better and to catch up.

Most information about agencies is obtained via the specialised press (MM, PUB), via UBA and via award events (EFFIE). For pitches, brands call on the experiences of their own network and on the expertise of specialised matchmaker consultants (such as PitchPoint).

The role of the agency

A brand works with an agency primarily for his creativity. The advertiser is looking for creative ideas and concepts that can last for a longer period of time and that are declineable. On the other hand, he is looking for top-creative elaborations and design.

Advertisers also see agencies as challengers who proactively guide them in their communication. For them, agencies are also the guardians of communication planning and timings.

Advertisers do not really agree on the marketing strategy and business role of agencies. Some think that this is their own task, others count on their agency to help them with this. More and more advertisers are calling on other external experts for this. The same applies to data and technological skills.

Most advertisers agree that they are responsible for their own brand DNA. But here too, they regularly call on other external experts for this.

When asked about their selection criteria when choosing a new agency, creativity comes first, followed by business attitude, operational effectiveness and 'chemistry'.

Agency roster issues

The classic full-service agency as the only partner for communication services has become an exception because brands no longer believe that one partner can provide all the necessary services. Most of the advertisers surveyed work with an agency roster consisting of a main agency (agency-of-record) and several additional agencies. These additional agencies are often attracted for their specific expertise, with digital and data being the most frequently mentioned. In addition, they sometimes work with different agencies because of the price (where the extra agencies are used at a lower price for specific tasks) or because of the greater agility and flexibility.

Often, this agency roster has grown organically and is not sufficiently strategically supported and planned. As a result, working with different agencies creates extra complexity. Procurement is in favour of streamlining and optimizing the agency rosters.

Finally, there is a clear tendency among large advertisers to internalise certain specialities. This applies in the first place to programmatic media buying. But other digital and production tasks are also eligible for this.

The relationship between advertiser and agency

We note a general satisfaction among large advertisers about the services provided by the agencies. Most advertisers evaluate the relationship with their (creative) agency in a positive way. Advertisers find that they have an open relationship and honest communication with their agency, even at difficult moments and in conflict situations. They feel that their agency understands their business strategy and consider it 'an indispensable partner for success'. Advertisers regard their agency as 'part of their team'.

As a negative point, they cite the fact that their agency is not good enough at demonstrating the ROI of their efforts.

In the context of the relationship between advertiser and agency, advertisers see 3 elements as the basis for creating good communication campaigns: good cooperation, mutual trust and a long-term relationship. As far as the latter is concerned, there are a few who see long-term relationships as counterproductive to creativity. When it comes to 'trust', the agencies score high on the factors 'integrity', 'intentions' and 'talent'. However, they score significantly lower on the 'results' factor.

When working with an agency roster, the efficient cooperation between the agencies requires extra attention. The lack of synergy between creative agencies and media agencies is also pointed out.

The question of whether agencies are more interested in solving advertiser problems or in selling their work is not answered unambiguously.

The remuneration

Most of the interviewees pay their agency a monthly fee based on an annual estimate of the work volume.

In addition, most remuneration models provide for a bonus system. The calculation of the bonus is done differently for each advertiser. The KPIs used are sometimes oriented towards the long term, sometimes towards the short term. The bonus criteria vary from 'cooperation' over 'brand and project results' to 'sales'. If an advertiser does not provide a bonus system, the reason for this is that they experience this as too complex.

For specific projects outside the scope, the remuneration is based on a quotation per project or on a timesheet. Some people only remunerate their agency on a project basis.

The output-based remuneration based on prearranged rate-cards per project is less known and remains less popular at the moment.

Advertisers find it difficult to evaluate the value they receive for their money. ROI remains a gut feeling: asked for specific measurements and benchmarks they quote their own experience and expertise in the procurement department. They have little insight into the work performed, doubt the efficiency, and do not always understand the role of the different actors in the agency.

The evaluation

As already mentioned, advertisers are generally satisfied with their agencies. The planned evaluation of the relationship is less popular and little time is devoted to it. If it happens, it is organized on an annual basis. The satisfaction of the advertising team and the analyses of the timesheets are mainly taken as criteria during the evaluation.

Evaluation moments are often used by agencies to question the remuneration. This regularly leads to discussions and is perceived as negative by the advertiser.

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