What’s the biggest change with clients and agencies so far this year? Surely it must be the fact that few clients now expect or believe that their agencies will collaborate together to form aligned and agreed solutions to the clients brief or problems. It is clear that in today’s world it is everyone for themselves.

Now this is not a hard and fast rule and I do see collaboration happening in some cases, but in general most are not doing it consistently and whereas in previous years there may have been a show of collaboration, now that show is more of a distraction and a delay to reaching solutions. It is often a farce that creates high expectations and muddies the waters when those expectations are not delivered.

Is this a big issue? Only if you are expecting something else. If you are, take stock. As I discussed last week, business is tough, there is no way around that and as such everyone is looking for possibilities to increase revenue. And as we have seen over the last few years the agency offering is not as rigid as it once was. Media now offers digital and social solutions as well as creative execution. Creative agencies have media planning and buying capabilities as well as execution though all channels.

Digital agencies execute ideas through the line and into traditional media. And all of them will tell you that they are experts; resourced and skilled to deliver in all these areas. So if in a brief there is a hint of say a new media opportunity, all three of your strategic partners will make an argument for an approach that requires them to see it through to delivery. And often these solutions will be conflicting with one another making it hard to know what the best solution really is.

So what does this mean? For me, as always it comes back to the client understanding what it is they want from their agencies and being clear about that (with the agencies and with others in the client team). If not, things are just going to drag out (who has time for that) and cost more than they should (who has the money for that).

For some clients they will see this as an opportunity to confront all partners individually with the same brief, challenging them to solve the question of what we should talk to the target market about, or the idea. That’s ok. Plenty do that. But doing it may mean that one of your agencies misses out and ends up with no role. If they are a strategic partner, they are probably there for a reason and they are probably on retainer. If they miss out then 1) what’s the point of having them on a retainer 2) why are they a strategic partner at all and 3) why have an agency wasting resources working on things they won’t be involved in. Surely that is not very productive for them or the client.

One solution is to be clear around executional delivery. So although all agencies are briefed and all can come up with a solution, execution for specific elements are clearly defined and all agencies know the role they have to play in this space. Of course the issue is if the agency that comes up with the idea does not execute it, how do they make money from the idea? And if that is the case you can be very sure that the solution will be focused on the area they work in. Surely this is a solution more for the agency than the client. And that becomes the crux of the issue, who can you believe!

Other clients may want to be clear up front, starting with the channel plans first rather than the idea, solving how best to reach the target first before deciding what to reach them with. Once that is decided then it is a fairly simple matter of briefing the appropriate agency to work in the appropriate channel. If this is the approach then you need the agencies to cooperate on developing; executing and leveraging the idea across all the chosen channels. That requires management and clients need to take responsibility for making that work

These approaches are fair enough and clients do solve briefs in all these ways. However unless there is clarity around what the approach is and what is wanted from doing it that way, then it is likely to become a mess, with diluted ideas being arrived at slowly and costing far more in time and energy then they should.

Business is not only tough for agencies but for clients as well. To me, as a client I would want to be leveraging all my partners in the most effective way and as a client I would know what that way was and why that was the approach. That manages expectations and creates clarity for resourcing and with those managed I can then get on with the important task of delivering the best work in the most effective way.