Your Agency: Partner or Vendor?

January 4, 2013

By Bill Duggan

Before joining ANA, I enjoyed a nice run working at major advertising agencies. I was fortunate to have (mostly) great clients who truly valued their agency relationships and treated us as a partner.  Those clients included Kraft, Canon, SmithKline, Sara Lee, and Wrangler.  I’ve always hated the word “vendor” as a vendor sells hot dogs at the ball park.  

But times have changed.  Clients long ago unbundled media and more recently did the same for production (called decoupling).  Media has fragmented dramatically and as a result marketers have many more specialty agencies.  So it’s more difficult than ever before for any individual agency to be a marketer’s primary outside resource and true partner.  But not impossible.

In our 2012 survey, Evolution of the CMO and Marketing Team, over one-third of all respondents described their primary ad agency as a “vendor” or “supplier.”  Yikes – their primary agency!

More encouragingly however, marketers were asked an open-ended question: “What do you think the ‘agency of the future’ looks like?”  Being a strategic partner/thought leader (not vendor/supplier) was the top reply by far, noted by almost 30% of respondents.  That’s pretty staggering considering this was an open ended question.

From my agency days, I always felt that clients who treated us as partners got much better work (especially in the long term) than those who had a vendor mentality.  And certainly, being a partner is more motivating for an agency than being a vendor.

Food for thought for marketers as the marketer dictates the tenor of their agency relationships.


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