Senior Marketing Executives Share Best Practices in Agency Relationship Management

April 23, 2013

ATLANTA — The increasing pressures on client side marketers to prove marketing ROI, leverage big data and stay relevant in a constantly evolving consumer landscape have put pressure on the already sensitive client-agency relationship. But with strong partnerships, you can get ahead of your competition in setting the stage for future growth, said four successful corporate marketing executives at the American Marketing Association’s (AMA) Signature Luncheon on April 16. The discussion was moderated by Kerry Kielb, Senior Consultant at The Bedford Group. Panelists included Vance Overbey of AT&T (NYSE: ATT), Mauricio Parise of Delta Air Lines (NYSE: DAL), Mark Hendrix of Fifth Third Bank (Nasdaq: FITB) and Cam Glover of Rollins Corporate/Orkin Pest Control (NYSE: ROL). These brands are represented by four of the top advertising agencies in the US: BBDO, Wieden + Kennedy, Leo Burnett and The Richards Group. According to the panel, strong agency partnerships occur when infused with honesty, transparency, a mutual “give and take” and a shared passion for the brand. Only then will your agency truly become an extension of your marketing team, helping to drive growth in customer loyalty and brand preference. Kielb invited comments on five functional areas of the client-agency relationship: Innovation, Access to Top Management, Multi-Partner Integration, Performance Evaluation and Agency Compensation. While several of the panelists spoke from a large enterprise point-of-view, takeaways from the conference could be easily applied by companies of all sizes. “Innovation is critical to business success, but only when it drives customer value,” noted Delta’s Parise. Several panelists commented on how they foster ingenuity among their agency partners by encouraging them to think more about business creation than advertising. One example of this type of innovative thinking was shared by Rollin’s Glover who talked about his agency’s help in developing a mobile application for use in the field by sales inspectors. Kielb noted the importance of instilling a spirit of partnership in the client-agency relationship as one way to drive creativity and innovation. She pointed to a quote from Jane Bedford, founder of The Bedford Group, who once said, “Great advertising can only be developed in the absence of fear.” Kielb also led the panelists in a discussion about facilitation access to those on the executive leadership team as that closeness to the decision makers drives great partnerships and experimentation. Fifth Third Bank’s Hendrix, whose “Curious Bank” campaign has been noted for its creativity, said that it is with “enlightened self-interest” that he has facilitated a relationship between his agency Leo Burnett and Fifth Third’s senior leadership. “Clients get the work they deserve. It has been said that agencies should be co-creators of great business ideas, not just new creative,” he noted. As the media landscape continues to fragment, integration among traditional and digital advertising agency partners is becoming more important, especially with increased involvement from other internal groups like IT.  All panelists agreed that it is the client’s responsibility to play the role of integrator and provide clear expectations around roles and responsibilities to avoid competitive fears. “We, the client, need to moderate that discussion between agencies” said Delta’s Parise. He also noted that successful integration begins internally. If your marketing organization structure is siloed, your partners will behave that way too. Setting clear expectations is also important when evaluating agency performance. While most companies require an annual performance evaluation for internal employees, Kielb and the panelists noted that organizational assessments with critical agency partners require both a quantitative and qualitative approach. AT&T’s Overbey talked about the benefit of their formal client-agency relationship evaluation system and noted the importance of having clear metrics that are monitored daily. All of the panelists concurred that nothing ever substitutes for ongoing, open and honest dialogue at all times during the client-agency relationship. Last among the panelist discussion topics was agency compensation. Fifth Third Bank’s Hendrix spoke about a recent change in their compensation strategy that puts the emphasis on specific strategic initiatives instead of hours or FTEs. “The labor based compensation system can put an artificial governor on what is needed to meet objectives” he said. He also highlighted that a compensation strategy of this kind requires a lot of transparency, some historical knowledge of requirements and strong metrics. It’s never been more important to build a strong client-agency partnership and, according to this panel of successful marketers, the path to success is through collaboration, shared goals and transparency. For more information on the AMA Signature Luncheon series visis  For help in optimizing your ownclient-agency relationship to ensure optimal productivity and quality of output, contact The Bedford Group at 404-237-7471.

About The Bedford Group

The Bedford Group is an Atlanta based Marketing Management Consulting firm that has been in operation since 1986. It has built its reputation on marketing organization support, agency search and relationship management and strategic marketing consulting.  Unlike traditional advertising consultants, The Bedford Group looks beyond traditional marketing disciplines to solve complex, enterprise-wide issues for efficient resource management and improving marketing ROI.

Jane Bedford
(404) 237-7471