Agencies hit back at Nestle's managing partnerships gripe

By Rosie Baker | 15 August 2013

Nestle has suggested marketers have become too bogged down in process management to do their jobs. Running around managing multiple agency relationships was last week cited as a problem by Nestlé director of corporate communications and marketing services David Morgan.

But agencies have hit back. Difficult agency relationships might be the product of a less than perfect strategy, they told AdNews.

Speaking at an ADMA conference last week, Morgan harked back to the days when a client could pick up the phone to one man and be on top of everything that was happening on the account. Not any more.

"We're getting stuck in the middle, stuck in operations, stuck in process management," he said. "We're spending so much time doing things that are not core to our trade of marketing, that it's taken up our ability to do our trade of marketing. Today, our guys are managing eight, nine, 10 different agency groups – digital groups, media groups, creative groups, strategy groups. It takes up a lot of time to talk to them, coordinate them, project manage them."

Agencies agree the world has got more complex for all parties. But that is reality.

“The tragedy is that as the world gets more complicated, and requires more thought exerted upon adapting to the transformation around us and then how to capitalise upon it, costs are squeezed, margins eroded and therefore thinking time gets marginalised too," Leigh Terry, CEO Omnicom Media Group ANZ, told AdNews.

Managing relationships is easier when agencies are treated as strategic partners, said Travis Day, general manager of Vizeum Melbourne.

“Modern agencies of all disciplines are recognising this and pouring significant effort into ensuring that they have a partnership role with all clients; that they are trusted advisor and, most importantly that their reporting and admin are streamlined"

He said the approach generally led to more work with its clients.

VCCP MD Peter Grenfell agreed managing partnerships was easier than less equal relationships.

“Squabbling and bickering [between agencies] should have stayed in the playground. Agencies should be able to sort out all their differences but if clients view their agencies as a genuine partnership and go into the relationships with a long term view then you find agencies respond positively to that.”

If managing agency relationships was taking up too much time, it might be worth revisiting the ground rules that agencies were initially set.

Terry adds: “Reinforce the fact that they need to stick to the ground-rules or you get bounced from the team. Tough love, but everyone knows where they stand from the outset, and the expectations to operate and behave accordingly.”

It's important lead account and planning directors have a “full service mentality” according to VCCP's Grenfell, and can look at the account holistically rather than just focus on their individual part of the work.

“Agencies can be guilty of getting caught up in their own world, but its the responsibility of both the agency and the client to hand over responsibility to the agencies to work together. Agencies aren’t always good at talking face to face – agencies need to open up and be more collaborative with each other. Creative agencies need to not be sniffy because they lead the strategy and media agencies need to not be sniffy because they hold all the money.”

Nestle's Morgan also talked about the industry’s failure to keep up with what he called “transformational change” over the past five years, adding that complex agency relationships have also held marketers back from making the best use of new technologies and data.

That misses the bigger picture, according to Grenfell, namely clients' willingness to take risks. "Ultimately, you need a client to be brave – not just in their brief but in terms of what they are going to be receptive to."

Omnicom's Terry agrees. "Transformational change” must come from within businesses, he said.

“There is an absolute need to simply take carefully considered risks on experiments. An appetite for change is cultural, and if clients talk about innovation but don’t really want to take risks, they will revert back to what is safe."

And there's the rub, said Terry.

"You cannot outsource that to agencies, no matter how many you have. Change is pain – it’s different, it's new learning, it's more work, but you have to show that the current reality is broken in order to get people to buy into the benefits of your proposed changes.”

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