It's a 2-way street: MY agency heads on improving client-agency ties

Client-agency relationships have always been a common topic of discussion in the ad land. Time and again, clients have been asked to view agencies as business partners in order for the relationship to be mutually beneficial. Agencies have also had to evolve and provide integrated offerings to suit the changing ad landscape and clients' needs. 

A recent study by the World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) found that agencies want more face to face and open discussions with clients about what can be done better once evaluations have occurred. Many agencies also said they are not comfortable in providing honest feedback, with 43% citing this as the biggest barrier to effective evaluation. Additionally, agencies want clients to think more carefully about the KPIs they use, and not rely on cost-only KPIs, KPIs which the agency has no control over (such as NPS or share price), or subjective KPIs such as enthusiasm.

It is safe to say that these issues faced by agencies are not limited to geography. As such, A+M asked agency heads in Malaysia how marketers can adapt to become better clients and improve the client-agency relationship.

Nicky Lim, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Malaysia

nicky lim dentsu aegis network 3

New realities of this economy - digital disruption, #BlackLivesMatter, US-China trade war - have put marketers’ relationships with their agencies to the test. Clients are prioritising short term sales tactics at the expense of their brand equity.

Marketers need to re-engage their agency partners on a deliberate brand building journey. Building trust is paramount in future-proofing business plans.

Now more than ever, communicating and being fully aligned on this shared purpose will result in win-win outcomes.”

Chanchal Chakrabarty, CEO, GroupM Malaysia

chanchal groupm 700x420

Client-agency team delivers best outcomes when it is a strong two-way relationship. And the best relationships that we have seen is where the client realises that their KPI (delivery) is linked to the agency performance and KPIs. Hence the more transparent the relationship between the two and more the client considers the agency as part of their team (or at least as their extended team), the better are the outcomes from the partner agency as well as on business.

With the soft economy in the past few years, unfortunately, client goals have become very short-term focused and that was probably a key reason for making the client-agency relationship more transactional and cost focused.

However in all the negatives of the pandemic, one positive has been that it brought this relationship closer since in this new world, pre-conceived notions are out of the window. Nobody knows what would work or not, so everyone is putting their heads together and collaborating closely towards best possible business outcome.

Nizwani Shahar, chief executive, Ogilvy Malaysia

nizwani shahar ogilvy 2020

In 2017, then CMO of Burger King, Axel Schwan, said: "Agencies are not vending machines. You cannot throw in money and hope the creative work comes out. He looks to the agency how a fan would look to their favourite band.” This is reflected in the award-winning work we have seen through the years with Ogilvy's David Miami agency which has been epic.

However, today’s digital disruption and the need for speed has made the client-agency relationship a lot more transactional in some cases. Brand marketers need to appreciate that working with an agency is a two-way street.

For them to get the best out of their creative partners, it has to be an open, candid and honest relationship which includes a two-way appraisal, that looks at the business context and the shared bets to make together to build our brands.

Mazuin Zin, MD, Edelman Malaysia

mazuin zin edelman

We know like in life and in business too, only those partnerships that are anchored in realism, mutual respect and trust are the ones that succeed and prosper. So as long as the client continues to view you as a valued business solutions partner in the journey, as against a "campaign-centric" relationship, it will make for a win-win equation.

More so today, when businesses are seeking expertise that helps them act with certainty in these unprecedented times, building a collaborative client-agency-based working relationship is key to finding business impacting solutions together, and instilling confidence to co-own KPIs and outcomes.

Jason Khaw, director, Bricks and Clicks

jason khaw bricks and clicks


When it comes to our best clients, there are 3 common traits among them. They are clear, decisive (but not stubborn) and daring. Clarity and decisiveness go hand in hand.

It is important for marketers to be clear with their briefs, brand identity, expectations and KPIs from the get-go as well as being honest and constructive in their feedback.

Great clients are also those who embrace the genius of the "AND". They are results-driven and open to ideas. They value data-backed ideas and they have the courage to embrace new ideas that could potentially deliver great results. At the end of the day, agencies and marketers are on the same side, working toward the same goal. We should always be working with a win-win state of mind.

Amy Chandra, co-founder and creative director, Digital People

amy chandra digital people

With many brands moving online towards eCommerce, consumers will continue to shift to the new paradigm, and those who choose to stay offline will fade out and those who stay "safe" in their digital strategy will be forgotten. Millennial brands are mushrooming every day - this is the crucial time for existing brands to go headstrong by elevating their digital game plan by welcoming their agencies to be part of their business growth and strategic planning.

Keeping an open mind in accepting new technologies, ideas, culture, and productive communication is the key to the long term and successful relationship between brand-agency.

Share your thoughts with us journos in the newsroom and be part of our Instagram community to catch the behind the scenes action, industry updates and creative inspiration!

Related articles:
How brand side marketers can become better clients
SG agency heads on how agencies and marketers can create better working relationships
Changing remuneration models: Is it leading to better client-agency relationships?
Top 40 client-agency relationships that have stood the test of time
Closer client-agency collaboration will help brands achieve these goals