Marketing Relationship Survey: Agency-Client Relationship in 2022

For the past four years, Setup has conducted a Marketing Relationship Survey to take the pulse on how Companies (Brands/Clients) and Marketing Agencies operate and work together. Because we live in the space between Brands and Agencies, we are in a unique position to bridge any gaps – in communication, work style, work needs, and more. In that vein, we’re excited to share the results of this year’s survey to provide insight and perspective on the current state of Agency-Client relationships.

If we had to sum up what we learned this year, it would be that Brands are even less satisfied with their primary Agency than they were in 2021. The status of the Client/Agency relationship in 2022 is that it is a mess! For example, Agencies think that Clients end relationships with their Agency most frequently due to Budget Cuts, when the real reason is the Lack of a Strategic Approach, among several others.

Who participated in the survey?

We always have a good mix of Client-side and Agency-side respondents, and this year is no exception with over 300 marketers participating.

On the Client side, two-thirds of respondents hold Director level and up positions, and we had significantly more B2C-focused marketers weigh in vs. last year. 63% of these Clients work at companies with 500+ employees.

On the Agency side, 60% of respondents are a part of their Agency Executive Teams. Just over half of the respondents work for smaller agencies with 50 employees or less, and 77% work for full-service agencies (either digital-focused or digital and traditional), leaving 23% working for specialist agencies.

Notable Clients who participated come from Abbvie, Aveda/Estee Lauder, Cox and Cox Automotive, Delta Air Lines, Georgia Pacific, Loews Hotels & Co., NAPA Auto Parts, Sam’s Club, Syracuse University, The Coca-Cola Company, The Home Depot, UPS, USAA, and Warner Bros Discovery.

Notable Agencies that participated include Bounteous, Sagepath Reply, Goods & Services, and Luckie.

Why Clients end their Agency relationships

We love a good “He said, She said” scenario, and that is what we have here. Agencies have perceptions about why they lose Clients, and Clients are telling us why they fire Agencies. Though the reasons may be similar, it’s the order of those reasons that are so disparate. Agencies think that Client budget cuts are the #1 reason that Clients ended relationships, but the Clients say that’s a much less frequent reason – it’s #8 for Clients. Is this discrepancy because it’s easier for a Client to tell an Agency they had budget cuts than to give them honest feedback and share that the Agency’s strategic approach was lacking or that they were dissatisfied with the value of the work received? Every Client-Agency relationship is different, so we cannot definitively say. But we do believe that knowing these differences can be helpful to both Clients and Agencies to inform future conversations and discussions. We advocate for transparency always – it’s what helps teams learn, reflect and improve.

How Clients feel about Agencies

Part of the beauty of conducting this survey each year is that we can compare data to years past. This year, we find it interesting to compare notes with last year (2021) to see how feelings are shifting.

In 2022, Clients prefer working with fewer marketing Agencies overall, and more generalist – rather than specialist – agencies. In order to reduce an agency roster, it makes sense for a Client to consolidate capabilities into one generalist/full-service agency vs. managing and coordinating a group of several specialist agencies. And this seems to be the trend in 2022 – great news for the full-service agencies out there!

With “the great resignation” and all of the job changing that we’re all witnessing in business in recent (pandemic) years, it is no surprise to see an increase in Clients who cite changes in their Agency’s personnel as a reason for ending a relationship. Basically, Clients are tired of the turnover at their agencies – it can interrupt ongoing business, create a need to train and ramp up staff that’s new to the account and generate a loss of consistency and longevity.

What Clients want from their Agencies

Clients want their Agencies to be more professional, collaborative, transparent and strategic. They want them to have a deeper understanding of their business and to provide better value. If Agencies don’t show up in these ways, Clients will end the relationship and find a new partner. This year, we see that Clients are dissatisfied with their Agencies’ strategic approach and the value that they bring to the brand’s marketing efforts, and they’re frustrated by changes in their Agency team’s leadership and/or account personnel. Clients do not have to tolerate Agencies who do not step up in these desired ways – there are thousands of agency options out there, and each Client deserves to find and work with an agency that fits their needs and approach perfectly!

Kinds of Agencies that Clients hire

It is always insightful to see what types of Agencies are most in demand by the Brands, and how certain services are more popular than others in a given year. In 2022, Clients are working most frequently with agencies that specialize in Branding/Identity work, Media Planning/Buying, Public Relations (PR), Web/Mobile Design/Development and Content Creation/Video. Changes we see in 2022 vs. 2021 include that Content Creation/Video work by agencies decreased significantly (though it still remains in the top 5), and Multicultural work by agencies increased fairly significantly.

How Clients find Agencies

It likely comes as no surprise that the most popular way that Client-Side Brand Marketers find a new agency is by asking for referrals by trusted colleagues and friends. We all know the power of an informed recommendation that comes from someone you trust – that’s one of the reasons that Influencers on social media are so effective for brands in reaching consumers. Marketers are no different behind the scenes, looking for trusted referrals from colleagues whose work they admire or friends with similar marketing challenges to their own.

At Setup, we operate squarely in this realm. The core of our business is to help Clients find their perfect Agencies, and to help Agencies find new and relevant Clients. Setup operates as both an external referral source and a search consultant for various Brands in different ways and at different times. If you are looking for a new Agency Partner, please reach out!

What challenges are Agency-Side Marketers facing?

The #1 item that Agencies struggle with this year is talent acquisition. Have you heard of “the great resignation” or “the talent wars”? Both phrases reference the fact that employees are leaving jobs at some of the highest rates in history, and this is happening on both the Client and Agency sides of Marketing. But the Agencies are feeling this pain particularly hard since it is their model to stay staffed up with expert employees who stay on the pulse of their chosen capabilities, and it can be difficult to find, hire and onboard new staff, not to mention retain current staff.

All the staffing changes and various external forces from the recent years have led Agencies to reevaluate where they are focusing organizationally. Acknowledging the importance of nurturing the team’s mental health is a shift we started seeing in 2020, and which continues to gain and hold importance at Agencies. Agencies are focused on their culture – if it’s a horrible, or even a forgotten culture, will your talent stay? Likely not. Agencies must be sure their staff has access to tools to help with mental health issues, that their culture is a focus, and that they are ensuring their talent has solid professional development opportunities. If Agencies ignore these areas, they will lose even more talent and have difficulty hiring new talent. But that’s not all – they also risk being fired by their Clients, who are tired of the turnover on their accounts.


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