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What makes an agency-client marriage successful?

Post last year’s ‘Mediapalooza‘ with marketers reviewing their agencies, this year has also not been very easy for the agencies with many companies taking their core activities in-house or top talent leaving for the likes of Google, Facebook and Apple and private investigators being hired to interrogate agencies on potential rebates.

But a recent report by R3 on Global 40 highlights some of the long-lasting agency relationships that have stood the test of time, giving agencies some guidance on how to maintain them well.

In terms of most relationships, Procter & Gamble led the rankings with four of the top relationships. The report found that the company invests as much internal time on training its own team on agency management as it does immersing the agencies.


Unilever came in second along with Coca Cola, Nike and McDonald’s, all appearing twice in the report. An interesting highlight from the report was that one of Unilever’s relationship stretched back to 117 years. Coca-Cola, Nike and McDonald’s have relationships involving their core creative agencies, but also media, digital and activation agencies as well.


The average for the number of years a relationship lasted for all the 40 in the study was at 22 years, compared to the industry average of 3.2 years. This outlines the need for managing these commitments pro-actively for ensuring a longer relationship. The findings also suggest that while a ‘marriage’ is under pressure, the value of a trusted global partnership can drive brand equity, business results and shareholder value.

“Great marriages require mutual trust, a common understanding and clear goals. What separates these partnerships is a sense that both sides are working to improve brand outcomes, separate to personal agendas, politics and infighting,” said Greg Paull, Principal of R3.

In terms of agencies, BBDO led the ranking of most relationships with five out of 40 companies. McCann Worldgroup had three, while FCB, Ogilvy, Laundry Service, OMD, mcgarrybowen, Publicis Worldwide, Carat, TBWA\ and W+K have two each.


For holding companies, Omnicom had the highest number at nine, followed by IPG at seven and Publicis Groupe at six.

The study highlighted six tips for CMOs for a ‘great global marriage’. First off was, the need for CMOs to look to new models as the report highlights that all the case studies had experimented and tried new ways of working, structures and compensation outcomes. “In a changing world, there is no final approach, only a constantly evolving one,” explains the report.

Despite the advent of technology, the study outlines the need for face time as it highlights that the best partnerships find ways to regularly connect to share best practice. “One marketer went so far as to hold a conference only for its global agencies to connect and collaborate,” cites the study.

‘Focus on outcomes, not inputs’ was the third advice for CMOs as by setting up mutually common objectives, both sides are aligned to the right things.


The report urged CMOs to take digital seriously as it said too many companies are buying digital by the yard, not by the year. “Global CMOs need a strategic digital partner to help them navigate through a real digital transformation, not just a tactical execution partner,” the report outlines.

There is also a need for immersion both ways as the report cites, “Whether its agencies attending sales calls, flipping burgers or working the store, building that understanding of a client’s business remains more critical than ever. Likewise, the best clients are intimately aware of their own agency’s work for other companies, their talent growth and internal initiatives.”

The last tip the report gave for CMOs was to benchmark and evaluate, saying that the marketers and agencies need to share a Dashboard of Best Practice, always looking to improve and drive effectiveness and efficiencies.

Shubhi Tandon

Shubhi Tandon is the Assistant Editor at Digital Market Asia. Fascinated by the evolving digital media industry, she has focussed on tracking developments in the Asia Pacific market since 2014.