There’s much to be said for long-term partnerships between marketers and their creative and media agencies. Understanding each other’s roles, requirements and journey into a successful future takes time and the perception that comes with it.

Like the partner who knows just when to bring a bunch or flowers home or run your bath for you, good relationships are not all about the initial glow. They have their rough patches and each party may want to stick doggedly to what they feel is right in a particular campaign.

Getting past this requires careful relationship management. SCOPEN research from 2017 notes that the longevity of a marketer’s relationship with their creative agency runs an average of 4.26 years and with their media agency, 4.12 years.

The research shows that the creative agency relationship ends largely because of dissatisfaction with delivery, the quality of the team, a lack proactive behaviour by the team, too many staff changes, and the impact on all of these on costs.

Media agency relationships, however, end when the contract is over. Fair enough. But wouldn’t a happy marketer sign a new contract?

Cost of saying goodbye

In matching marketers and agencies, our experience with relationship management is that if it doesn’t happen, someone eventually mentions the “D-word” … and it truly can be as painful and costly as a real divorce. Besides the parting of the ways, there’s finding a new agency and developing a relationship, which can take months to function properly and produce the optimum outputs.

We also note that by the time the “D-word” is mentioned, it is usually too late to salvage the relationship’s trust and strength, which is why managing your business relationship is as vital as any other relationship you wish to grow and succeed with.

Johanna McDowell. Picture: Supplied
Johanna McDowell. Picture: Supplied

To do this, a management structure should be set up from the start, and it must include the flexibility required to accommodate market changes over time. Part of this structure must include the evaluation or inventory of self and the other. Each party should have a set of questions they ask themselves about their own company and behaviours, and then about their agency’s.

Once this is done, an independent mediator who is well versed in industry issues and requirements, as well as sourcing solutions, should analyse the documents to determine areas of satisfaction and areas of concern for both parties. Then mediation can begin. While it may not be comfortable initially, if all parties are undertaking these steps in order to salvage the relationship, they will be present with open minds and optimism.

Principles lie in the data

For the data given to the independent mediator to be effective, it must be robust enough to support measurable facts. Where companies rate each other purely on feelings, the outcome is unlikely to be positive. Data accumulated over the period of the relationship is impartial and can move discussions from “personalities” to “principles”.

While many organisations set out their service-level agreements and expectations at the start of their relationships, too few set up the “prenup” – the relationship management structure that could ease the arduous task of the break-up and the moving on.

Again, key to the stability of the relationship structure is solid data – which holds true under any and all circumstances and can rid the business association of the questioning, accusations and resentment that come before someone draws the divorce card.

Reaching the potential heights in the marketer/agency partnership will naturally consist of some low moments on the way. How these are navigated, smoothed over and adapted to by both parties – with the goals firmly in place – is the key to partnership success. 


The IAS in association with the AAR Group (UK) was founded in SA in 2006. The IAS specialises in client/agency relationship management and helping clients find agencies.

International associate company AAR Group was founded more than 40 years ago in the UK and has associates and branches throughout the world.

The IAS is committed to the international and local pitch guidelines as defined by the Institute of Practitioners in Advertising UK and the Association of Communications Agencies SA.

SCOPEN Africa was launched in SA in 2016 in partnership with the IAS. The IAS now owns 26% of SCOPEN Africa (Grupo Consultores Africa). For information on SCOPEN Africa, visit scopen.com


Since their inception in 1990, the FM AdFocus Awards have become the leading platform for individuals and agencies to be recognised not only for their creative marketing skills, but for their overall business acumen as well. The awards are a landmark on the SA marketing and communications landscape, celebrating advertising effectiveness. The 2019 FM AdFocus Awards take place on November 27.