The argument between a Brand Manager and an Account Manager of an advertising agency is as predictable as day and night. What has not changed in decades is that either party complains about the other of incompetence.

This conflict between Client and Agency (Brand & Agency) has been a long-standing one and there does not appear to be any ceasefire between the two parties in the next at least a few years down the road.

In my personal experience, the difference in perspective is more pronounced in Pakistan than what I have observed in North America. Though there are multiple reasons for the ever-widening gulf between the parties, I do feel that there is more to it than meets the eye.If both parties are serious about improving the relationship and the end results, then it is imperative to take a deep dive and understand the real issues behind the conflict. Here are my two cents on the main triggers.

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Lack of Experience and Empathy         

I have personally observed that in many cases, personnel on both sides i.e., Brand Managers, as well as Account Managers, are too inexperienced in their roles, which is a perfect combination for chaos. What should be a partnership to achieve a common goal ends up becoming a battle of egos simply because emotions get the better of either party. What makes it worse is that the lack of empathy displayed (mostly) by clients, leads to greater friction and dissent at the agency.

“It does not hurt for an agency to hold a training session for clients on how to fill an advertising brief and take them through a few real time case studies of how a successful campaign was developed. The purpose of the exercise needs to be on educated newly on-boarded brand managers and provide other marketing personnel a refresher of what is required by the agency in a good brief”.

Poor Briefs and Form-Based Creative

GIGO (Garbage In, Garbage Out) is an acronym that I learned when I was in university. It simply means that if you provide an advertising brief that is all over the place then the agency will give you a lousy ad. A successful campaign is based on a good strategy. What I have constantly seen is that most brand managers do not have a clear strategy and get mixed up between strategy and tactics on a regular basis.

A good strategy requires research-backed consumer insights that are highlighted in the brief for advertising and creative agencies to build a good communication campaign. Since most briefs are not based on consumer insights, agencies assume that solving for the obvious consumer irritant is the answer. For example, declining sales of a washing detergent or a household cleaning product should be dealt with through a price-off campaign to attract housewives. That is the most obvious conclusion even if there is no brief provided to the agency.

So why is it that such ad campaigns are most commonly in-market instead of advertising campaigns that are based on solid proof points or RTB’s (Reasons to Believe)? The answer is that most brand managers do not include proof points in the briefs or may not be updating proof points on an annual basis through research. We all know that market dynamics change and so do consumer expectations.

Knowing and Respecting each other’s Role

It takes two to tango. In a successful relationship, both parties are responsible and accountable for knowing each other’s role and not interfering in the other’s domain. I have observed that both parties are guilty of interference as either side lacks understanding of their own roles.

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In my own recent experience in Canada, both clients and agencies arrange for refresher training for the other side to ensure clarity of roles. It does not hurt for an agency to hold a training session for clients on how to fill an advertising brief and take them through a few real-time case studies of how a successful campaign was developed. The purpose of the exercise needs to be to educate newly on-boarded brand managers and provide other marketing personnel a refresher of what is required by the agency in a good brief.

Similarly, on the client side, there should be onboarding of any new advertising agency’s account managers to ensure that they have the right understanding of the brands, their positioning, proof points, distribution capabilities, pricing strategies, etc.

Clear and Constructive Feedback

There have been many instances when campaign creatives are presented to the client and the feedback is, “Yaar Maza Nahi Aa Raha”. For account managers, this feedback does not mean anything and is not actionable. There needs to be clear feedback that should highlight where the creative falls short in delivering on strategy or proof points or consumer insights that are detailed in the advertising brief. It also does not help when account managers do not ask the right questions from brand managers or explain the creativity in reference to how it delivers on the brief. I feel that formal training is required for brand managers and account executives to enable them in addressing this major area of concern.

Trust and Belief in the Partner

The relationship between clients and advertising agencies is a partnership. Taking the example of cricket, if both batsmen have trust in the other, they will build a strong partnership and complement each other. Unfortunately, I have not seen enough trust between clients and agencies to believe that they have each other’s backs. It is also important to note that in a partnership both sides need to be seen as equals, which, unfortunately, is not the case particularly in Pakistan. I have not seen many cases in Pakistan, where ad agencies push back on clients when time frames on SLA’s (Service Level Agreements) are not observed. In North America, it is common to see an ad agency revising WBS (Work Back Schedule) when clients delay approvals, etc.

Though the traditional client-agency relationship has evolved a great deal, the fact remains that there is specific expertise that both parties bring to the table. Despite all the fragmentation that has taken place in the advertising world, it is apparent that clients continue to need ad agencies due to their specific skill set that not every other organization possesses. Keeping this in mind, both parties must sit across the table and work through the issues to form a partnership based on mutual benefit and respect.

This article was originally published in Synergyzer Issue 2, 2021.


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Ali Raza Merchant is a marketing veteran with over 25 years of experience with multiple industries. After graduating from IBA in 1989, he joined Hoechst Pharmaceuticals (now Aventis) as a marketer, and then ventured into textile marketing. But since his heart was always in the FMCG business, he joined Lakson Tobacco Company (Philip Morris), and did a 10 year tenure there which included heading the Marketing Division. After Lakson, he moved to Synergy Advertising as an Executive Director and played a major part in Synergy’s growth as a communications group. Ali now lives in Toronto, where he moved with his family in 2013. He works for Toronto Dominion Bank’s Marketing Planning Division for the Insurance business.