How Marketers Can Encourage Greater Creative Value from Their Agencies

Spend Matters welcomes a guest post from Darren Woolley of TrinityP3. This is the first part of the two-part post.

At TrinityP3, we undertake extensive agency remuneration benchmarking, and one of the outputs of this process is determining the efficiency of the client / agency relationship. When we identify particularly inefficient relationships, we will then investigate further to determine the causes.

Typically the main issues causing inefficiencies include:

  1. Poor briefing processes
  2. Misalignment of expectations
  3. Miscommunication
  4. Under-remuneration
  5. Flawed approval processes
  6. Different interpretations of creativity
  7. Challenging relationships
  8. Cultural clashes


But instead of providing our recommendations on how to address these issues and encourage greater efficiency, effectiveness, and creative value, I would go to the source. I would go to the CEOs of the agencies that are regularly recognised for creative excellence, not just in Australia and New Zealand, but those recognized regionally across the Asia Pacific and on the global stage.


The agency CEOs I spoke with include (from left to right starting at the top): Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne; Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup; Andy Pontin, CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney; Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia; Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ; Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia; Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys; and Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia.

Let’s look at what these agency CEOs have to say on the issue of encouraging greater creative value. In no particular order, here they are.

1. Poor briefing processes

Briefing is a long-standing problem because of the concept of "garbage in, garbage out." That is why many agencies provide training for marketers on how to brief them. Does yours?

“Brief writing – it amazes me how the art of brief writing has been lost and I would encourage clients to train their teams to know how to brief agencies well and be single-minded. We love holding brief writing sessions for clients and they get a huge amount out of it.  A few hours a day invested is well worth it." - Nick Garrett, CEO, Colenso NZ

One solution that takes this idea a step further is to actually write the brief together.

“Co-authored briefs; they result in better ideas that are more likely to be bought as everyone has buy-in." - Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

Many believe that context is important and that the broader the context the better able the agency is to solve the problem and provide the solution.

“Thorough briefing – on the business problem and not just the advertising deliverables." - Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

“Brief on genuine business problems vs advertising requests." - Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

“Describe the business objective – not just the marketing objective." - Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

“Brief customer engagement rather than (media) channel plans." - Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

“Share as much information and insight as possible." - Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

And that the best briefs are where you are able to go beyond your comfort zone.

“Share the truth no one else has either noticed or the guts to share." – Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

That ultimately if your agency is not providing the strategic or creative solution you need, it will be because they did not understand the problem.

“Be as explicit as possible around problems or issues." - Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

The best solutions come from defining and understanding the best problems.

“Don’t confuse the problem with objectives – one you solve, the other you achieve." - Peter Biggs, Chief Executive, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne

2. Misalignment of expectations

Often we expect alignment of expectations to simply happen. But one of the most obvious areas where misalignment occurs is in the creative product.

“Share and discuss examples of work you like and don’t like – it helps set expectations." – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

It will not just happen automatically and therefore the process should be planned and managed.

“Sit down with your agencies to regularly talk about great creative work and thinking wherever its from. Sometimes when you get the window to look at work from other countries, companies and categories it makes it less personal and you realise you are both inspired and excited by the same things." – Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

But beyond creativity, it is important to define and agree expectations in performance and success.

“Agree up front what success looks like and how it will be measured." – Ben Lilley, Chairman & CEO, McCann Worldgroup

Alignment of expectations increases the level of collaboration and effort.

“A clearly articulated shared ambition around the work. What does success look like?” - Andy Pontin CEO, Clemenger BBDO Sydney

3. Miscommunication

Often marketers are under the impression that they must handle the agency with kid gloves.

“Don’t sugar coat feedback." - Sudeep Gohil, CEO, Droga5 Australia

But not if this gets in the way of clarity and honesty.

“Cultivate a culture of honesty – be frank with your agency team and ask them to do the same with you." – Chris Brown, CEO DDB Group Australia

4. Under-remuneration

Agency remuneration is about paying for what you want.

“Pay them well. The better paid agency can attract the best people." – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

“Invest to grow." - Jaimes Leggett, CEO, M&C Saatchi Australia

“Build the ideal agency team together. Don’t make assumptions about what they can and can’t do." - Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

And, where possible, use remuneration as an incentive.

“Reward them for performance. Ensure they are focused on what you are focused on." – Mark Green, CEO/Co-Founder, The Monkeys

But beyond remuneration there is a priceless reward that costs so little.

“Always say thank you for the hard yards the junior people put it. That  discretionary effort is priceless." - Nick Garrett, MD, Colenso BBDO NZ

Check back later this week for Part 2. 

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First Voice

  1. Arun:

    Great post and all valid points that all point to relationship building. Build one of trust, confidence and collaboration and the outcomes should hit the mark from all sides. If either party holds back on any of the key areas then it all falls apart. I’d like to add that it’s not just the big end of town, smaller agencies and clients also suffer from the same issues.

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