‘It’s Awkward’: Nearly Half Of Creatives Say Agency-Client Relationship Is Breaking Down

Marriage relationship misunderstanding problem

Creatives complain that marketers do not trust them and it’s hindering creativity and effectiveness, according to a State of Creativity study by Cannes Lions.

Creative directors are finding it increasingly difficult to work with brand-side marketers and nearly half have blamed a breakdown in agency-client relationship for producing sub-standard work.

A State of Creativity report by the organisers of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity revealed a tension in the agency-client relationship with 45 per cent of creatives and 37 per cent of marketers describing their relationship as “hard”. Only 26 per cent of creatives and 32 per cent of marketers said their partnership is easy, while the rest labelled it as neutral.

A creative director in Romania said that clients consider their agency partners as “contractors, not partners”, while a senior creative manager in the UK said: “More and more clients seem to be focused on a supplier-based relationship rather than a long-term creative partnership, and this is impacting our ability to get on and do brilliant creative work.”

Top marketers that value the client-agency partnership agree that a healthy working relationship is vital. Victoria Sjardin, the VP of marketing, International, at The Kraft Heinz Company, told the study: “You will succeed or fail based on you as a client. You are half of the relationship, so if there is a problem, 50 per cent of it is your problem.”

It’s not just the dynamics between agency and clients that are causing friction. Agency respondents highlight challenges collaborating with other external partners that can often operate in silos.

“Usually, the agency and external partners have different agendas and goals,” an ECD in the United States said.

Creativity is also being thwarted by a trust deficit, with some marketers unable to believe in the power of creativity to drive business outcomes.

On the flip side, marketers are growing increasingly frustrated by conservative senior leaders who shackle creativity for “tried and tested options”.

An Australian marketing executive told the study: “Our biggest challenge is convincing leadership that greater risk leads to greater reward. Limited budget means limited testing opportunities, so we have to rely on theoretical assessments.”

A German creative director blames internal politics for curbing creativity, while a Nigerian marketing director said: “The rigidity and lack of understanding of marketing and its impact on the bottom line by business teams and leadership is our biggest challenge.”

Make Love, Not War

A strong client-agency relationship not only allows creativity to flourish, but streamline the creative process and its impact, the State of Creativity report found.

“Agency partnerships play a pivotal role in achieving successful brand building,” PepsiCo category growth officer and CMO of international foods Mustafa Shamseldin said. “(This is) a fact underscored by the strong relationships seen in the Cannes Lions winners over the years.”

Mastercard’s chief marketing and communications officer Raja Rajamanar said the cards and payments company actively involves agency partners in strategy sessions, adding: “This collaborative approach has led to some of our most innovative ideas.”

Companies that find it easy to work with their creative partners are: 

Cannes Lions State of Creativity

Brands that predict higher growth for 2024 are:


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    1. In 1987, I attended an AWARD course called “Advertising for Marketing Executives”, to educate marketing executives about everything that goes on to make advertising “work”.
      The consensus was that advertising people REALLY needed to attend a course called, “Marketing for Advertising Executives”.
      It looks like nothing has changed. 🙁

Cannes Lions kraft heinz MasterCard PepsiCo

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