Are Client-Based Project Assignments the New Normal?

By Mike Drexler

The idea for “best of breed” has been espoused by many clients without debate for as long as I can remember. But it has not necessarily been implemented. Client assignments evolved from an all inclusive single agency/client relationship to a holding company structure with several different agencies providing most disciplines under one roof. In most cases a contractual retainer arrangement paid for the relationship. Now the model is changing again and client interests are leading the way.

Advertisers Are Looking For Other Partners

Clients are now truly seeking best of breed whether it is within the holding company or from an outside source that offers a better level of expertise. So client/agency relationships are becoming more project based. Much of this is coming from the digital environment (we are now in a tech driven ecosystem) that represents a multitude of individual functions such as mobile, video, search, social media, content development, programmatic buying, data analytics, tracking, etc. Soon AI (artificial intelligence), will be incorporated into the advertising mix with voice activated messages through a speaker or chat interface. Many of these applications will also include direct client project assignments to adtech companies as well. This, of course, destabilizes the long-term retainer relationship agencies hope for. In many cases the holding companies have acquired or taken a position in specialized services that provide these benefits to their clients; which allows them to continue to handle most of the marketing needs that their clients require and reap the commensurate revenue rewards. But clients are reacting in new ways that they believe serves their best interests.

Everyone Is Getting Into The Act And Compensation Is Complex

Advertisers are now looking for real best of breed activities in each discipline. That means they are, without hesitation, adding more parties to meet their needs. Established independent digital agencies, as well as digital start ups (some can be called upstarts) performing specialized adtech functions, as independent companies, are also included in the review process. So one size fits all holding company appointments are becoming less popular. The multi-disciplined retainer relationship is yielding to project based assignments that are going to a variety of firms and the new order is being defined as best of breed. This presents its own set of issues as the coordination of services becomes more difficult and compensation formulas become more complex.

How Much Should Clients Handle Themselves

Clients are now having to reevaluate many of their current ways of doing business and agencies have to reexamine how they work with clients. For example, does the client need to bring more oversight on board? How is the chain of command from several different agencies being represented to the client organization? Does the client CMO have the required knowledge and staff to bring it all together? Can a multiplicity of agencies and adtech companies collaborate with one another on briefs, timing, measurements, data sharing, etc. And how is each compensated fairly for each task? Additionally, who is responsible for attribution of each platform and channel for campaign success?  Finally, who is responsible for orchestrating media integration, data analytics, consumer insight  and measuring the results?

The Bigger Problem Remains

Best of breed project assignments may be considered the new normal. But it is not the answer to the long term problem of client/agency relationships that has been deteriorating for some time. In fact, it may aggravate the problem. Project assignments may require that the client needs to take charge of all functions, at all times, with the necessary credentials to oversee and judge how well each supplier is performing each step of the way and also manage all financial decisions. It might be an insurmountable hurdle to overcome. So let’s focus on the proper structure, staffing, credentials, benchmarks and compensation to build stronger more transparent and verifiable client relationships with those organizations that provide services. It may lessen also the need for clients to keep searching for so called “best of breed”.

Originally published in Media Village

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