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Clients are taking a closer look at their agencies, and their reviews are not motivated by cost considerations, but instead by business performance issues. And to pass the test, agencies need to demonstrate creative and strategic aptitude, according to Avidan Strategies survey results revealed in a recent Forbes article. Indeed, clients are most often looking at the quality of creative ideas and strategy (90% of respondents) when evaluating agencies. This is consistent with CMO Council survey results from January, in which multinational marketers were most likely to say they look at strategic contributions when reviewing or evaluating agencies.

That study, though, found creative excellence to rank further down the list of attributes, behind agency efficiency and effectiveness. Among the AviDan survey respondents, three-quarters believe that understanding the client’s business is critical, with fewer looking at integration and coordination (56%) and implementation and follow-through (48%).

Agency Performance Under Fire

That business performance ranks above changes in marketing leadership (63%), dissatisfaction with the creative work (59%) and general relationship issues (56%) as the most widespread instigator of agency reviews not only emphasizes the importance of strategic input, but could be a worrisome trend for agencies, who appear to be suffering from a perceived decline in quality. Indeed, the survey finds that almost three-quarters of marketers say that agencies are inconsistent and in need of improvement, with one-quarter saying that they are straight out not doing a good job.

Behind these misgivings is a sense that traditional agencies have not managed the transition to a more digital model, a feeling held by 46% of the marketers surveyed. Complaints regarding agencies’ digital capabilities have been made before by respondents to a DataXu survey released in March, who took a largely negative view of their agencies’ role in improving their digital marketing performance.

It’s Not All The Agency’s Fault

Relationships are a 2-way street, though, and clients acknowledge that they also have some improvements to make. First and foremost, 82% believe they could deliver better briefs, while two-thirds think they can align their teams better. Fewer marketers see a need for training (47%), while about 4 in 10 admit that they need to do better at fighting silos.

Other Findings:

  • Marketers are feeling the pressure of increased accountability, and about 7 in 10 feel that this is where agencies need to improve most.
  • Three-quarters of the survey respondents believe that small and medium size agencies are more creative than big agencies.
  • About half of the marketers say they have been cutting back on their agency rosters in the past 3 years, and more than 4 in 10 plan further cutbacks, with digital agencies most likely to be on the chopping block.

About the Data: The Avidan Strategies data is based on an online survey of 1,900 business leaders in marketing, media, and procurement.

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