As the year winds down, now is the perfect opportunity for advertisers to evaluate each of their advertising agency relationships. The goal is straightforward, to generate actionable insights that help improve client-agency relationships.
The recommended approach is to review and discuss processes and practices that are working well and those that can and should be improved… both at the agency(s) and within the client organization. While many advertisers have annual evaluation programs in place and some link agency remuneration to performance, this article can also assist those that don’t have a formal review process in place.
For optimal results, a 360-degree evaluation process is recommended. This provides both client and agency personnel a prescribed mechanism for providing objective feedback on the year’s results and the efficacy of the relationship. Typically, this process begins with both stakeholder teams completing a survey designed to evoke responses and stimulate thoughts on performance, workflow, and various dimensions of the client-agency relationship including a joint meeting between cross-functional representatives from both organizations to review survey results and discuss potential actions to facilitate the success of these assessments.
Topics to be evaluated typically fall into three key areas:
Brand Performance – Reviewing key metrics relative to a brand’s in-market performance is the principal lens through which each agency’s performance should be evaluated (sales, market share, lead generation, prospect conversion, share of voice, consumer awareness, etc.). That said, it is important to recognize that depending on each agency’s role, they will have varying degrees of impact on these KPIs. Thus, Brand Performance cannot be the sole basis for evaluating an agency partner’s performance.
Agency Service & Delivery – This is a category where an advertiser’s agency partners have significant control over outcomes and more heavily influence an advertiser’s perspective on agency performance. Areas to be reviewed include measures such as:
- Knowledge of client’s business
- Level of strategic thinking
- Market knowledge and consumer insights
- Quality and consistency of outputs
- Responsiveness to client requests
- Ability to anticipate client needs
- Project management performance (adhering to deadlines, cost management, reporting)
- Accuracy and timeliness of billings
- Adherence to Master Services Agreement, particularly to transparency related rules
Client Processes & Responsiveness – An advertiser’s processes and agency stewardship skills have a large impact on agency performance. Given the goal of enhancing the efficiency of the overall advertising and communications process, feedback on client performance in areas such as the following can be critical to the effort:
- Timely access to key personnel and resources
- Efficacy of the strategic briefing processes for creative and media
- Efficiency of the internal approval process
- Change management process
- Approach to conflict resolution
- Budget release and payment timing
- Feedback on business outcomes and agency performance
Survey responses and the dialog during the meeting to review the evaluation summary should be objective, candid and focused on actions to be taken to improve deficiencies. Fault finding and one-way critiques leveled at an agency will do little to advance an advertiser’s desire to optimize these relationships. As noted, business author Ken Blanchard once said:
“None of us is as smart as all of us.”
To complete an advertiser’s agency stewardship efforts, layering in periodic contract compliance and performance audits that enforce an organization’s accountability efforts will further extend confidence and trust across its agency network.
For those just embarking on this process, both the 4A’s and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) offer primers on the agency evaluation process and survey templates for use in gathering stakeholder feedback.