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Taking stock: Are clients aligned more to agency hands than to agencies?

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Taking stock: Are clients aligned more to agency hands than to agencies?

It is becoming increasingly evident that when a key person moves out of an agency, the business he or she is handling follows the person. Is it an indication that a client’s allegiance to the person servicing the business is more than that to the agency?

It is not that this is an altogether new phenomenon, but in today’s changing dynamics of agency-client relationship it appears to be becoming a trend. In recent times, there have been insinuations of business moving out from an agency simply because of the client’s relationship with the agency head. There is no denying the fact that advertising is a people’s business and rapport plays a significant role in clinching deals.

Let’s examine why a business moves with the individuals in many cases. It could either be that the agency is incompetent and the client wants to move out. The other could be the agency’s inability to get a replacement after a senior person has quit.

Harish Shriyan, Managing Partner, OMD, said, “When a key person quits the client obviously is concerned. It’s the onus of the agency to find an able replacement who can build enough confidence with the client so that they know that their expectations and deliverables would be met.”

Explaining this further, Tarun Nigam, Starcom’s Executive Director, North India & Pakistan, said, “In many agencies, teamwork has gone for a toss and individuals run the show. In a bid to create a single point of contact for clients, agencies often overlook the need to put an able team in place. Instead, they divest maximum power in an individual, which in the end is detrimental to the agency’s growth.”

This trend is also an indication of something being awry with the character of an agency. As Anita Nayyar, CEO, MPG India, explained, “If the organisation is strong enough and is process driven, its dependence on individuals alone should not affect its business. If a business moves along with an individual, it is a clear indication of the organisation not being strong enough.”

While some in the agency business see it as fair that clients are willing to move with an individual whom they see as having contributed significantly to their brand, many others see this as an unhealthy trend.

Manish Bhatt, VP and ECD, Contract Advertising, who recently shifted from McCann Erickson, is of the opinion that though it is unprofessional to poach clients, “if a previous client is suffering with an agency, then in all fairness there is no harm in reuniting with an old hand that serviced the business”. Bhatt admits that he has been in a situation where an erstwhile client or even a former co-worker has expressed an indirect willingness to work with him.

But Starcom’s Nigam disagrees. According to him, “Brands are built by organisations and people have to respect that. Individuals can never take credit for building a brand as it requires teamwork.”

The ground reality, however, speaks otherwise. For instance, when the Nestle business moved owing to an international alignment some time back, in India the people servicing it in the previous agency moved as well. Sunandan Choudhary, who was heading the Nestle business at Universal McCann, moved with the account to Zenith Optimedia. He said, “I think it’s a client’s prerogative as they are spending money. If they think that some people are worthy enough to handle their brands irrespective of the agency, then they can do so.”

Choudhary pointed out another reason behind people shifting agencies and promising their new bosses that they would poach some of their previous agency’s clients. “I think while negotiating one’s next assignment and putting at stake the previous employer’s client is unfair. But in today’s world organisations are not fair to their people, so the employees think why not?” he added.

Perhaps a solution to reverse this trend lies in creating a strong second line of command, which would not be deterred by key people moving out. The fact is that a client would not be willing to move just because of one person; there has to be more reasons for shifting. Inefficient management could be a reason behind shifting loyalties.

Nayyar, who has faced insinuations that some of the businesses that have moved to MPG – including Radico Khaitan and L&T Overseas – were a result of her previous association with them, asserted, “These businesses would not have moved to MPG if it was not a strong enough brand and if the clients did not have faith in MPG. It is business and not charity. What matters is what an agency delivers to clients.”

As things stand today, this debate is destined to continue for a long time and there is nothing to stop the trend. At the end of the day, it is all about more business and more money.


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