A Marriage on the Rocks?
According to the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the average life-span of a client/agency relationship is now
down to 2.7 years, compared to more than 8 years in the 1980s. Relationships that spanned multiple decades were not uncommon
then. And no matter how discontent may arise, the model now seems to be to switch agencies rather than work on the relationship.
Today it seems agencies can be changed as easily as brands of toothpaste or toilet paper.
Obviously, there are lots of good agency/client relationships out there. And honestly, some agency/client matches aren't good
from the start and as such the partners are better off separating. But I believe that something has happened to the basic
concept of agency/client relationships—and both parties are paying the price.
The Root Causes
Let's start by stating the obvious: Agency/client relationships have changed because business has changed. We live in a different
environment, a different society. If we thought we didn't have enough time or money before, we have even less today. Less
time for thinking, planning, and testing. Fewer dollars for brand programs, education, training, and so on.
Add to that the cultural shift that's going on as a result of digital technology and social media, and what you've got is
an environment where chemistry, trust, and relationships seem to have lost their value. Conversations take place via e-mail
and phone; face time is rare. We're all connected. We're "friends" with people we've met once. And then there's the "brand
called 'me'" phenomenon—where people (normal businesspeople, not celebrities) are concerned with creating a brand out of themselves.
Which means personal career and life goals trump those of the actual product, the team, and the company.
» The fallout is seen in a number of ways, some subtle and some not:
» Lesser understanding of how relationships and partnerships work.
» Limited investment in building long-term relationships.
» Management time frames reduced to the quarter rather than the year.
» Decisions delegated down to lower levels of management.
» Less value placed on commitment toward a common goal.
So we often find client managers with limited seasoning making decisions previously made by long-term veterans and upper management.
And they're aligned with agency counterparts that have deep textbook learning and checklist training yet bear responsibility
for managing serious high-level budgets.