Ad Agencies: Consultants, partners or vendors?

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Are advertising agencies consultants, partners or vendors? How do clients view them and more importantly how do agencies view themselves? I guess a lot depends on the client’s attitude in general to Advertising & the agencies. However, most agencies aspire to be treated like brand partners.  Agencies sometimes equate themselves to specialist consultants like doctors, as an argument for clients to accept their recommendations without seeking options. Clients, on the other hand, seem to accept recommendations without seeking ‘options’ only from specialist consultants of great repute.

Is there a mismatch between the aspired positioning and the one that is practiced? Quite common, me thinks. We want to act like consultants but behave like vendors (noun – a person or company offering something for sale, esp. a trader in the street), especially when it comes to pricing. How often have we seen agencies undercut each other when it comes to new business pitches? Or display an ‘as you please’ attitude to remuneration?

If you look at the client-agency relationships that have lasted a long period of time, common factors include a commitment from both parties to make the relationship work, senior management involvement, consistent quality of work and perhaps a just remuneration. And there are others who keep calling for pitches every two years. While the reasons cited could be quality of inputs & work from the agency, it could be triggered by change in brand management team or wooing of the client by someone who offers the same wares at a cheaper price. Ditto with pitches. I can understand competitive pricing but some agencies will go so low with their pricing that it becomes difficult to sustain servicing of the account over time. And it triggers the cyclical process of poor servicing, followed by a pitch.

So are we vendors more and consultants less?

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  1. Abigail Rodrigues Reply

    I think an agency reaches a position of a consultant only a few years after working with a client i.e. when the client is confident abt the inputs given by an agency. Until then the attitude one follows is "Client knows best". In the time it takes to build that relationship with a client, where an agency is more actively involved in the direction of a brand, I think agency's can't help but act as vendors.

  2. Lucky, well written. My personal experience has been – Agencies wish to act as consultant in terms of retainer, time spent etc. however typically deliver as vendors. Client generally treat everyone as Vendors till satisfied and trusted.

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