UCL School of Management

23 May 2017

Five myths about collaboration between marketing agencies and clients

A new study from Collaboration Counts has identified five key findings that blow preconceived myths about collaborations between marketing agencies and clients out of the water.

Collaborations Counts is a joint project carried out by UCL School of Management, the MAA, Digitas LBi, the University of Cambridge and Curve, to demonstrate the true impact of collaboration on business and creativity. The group joined forces to discover what successful collaboration looks like, to identify the different patterns of collaboration within agencies and between agencies and clients and to understand the value that collaboration can bring.

To complete the study, the project team spent six months analysing qualitative research from 1,795 respondents, across four agencies - DigitasLBi, HeyHuman, Six, and Wasserman.

The research findings enabled the team to busy five common myths about collaborations between marketing agencies and clients. 

So, what are they?

Myth 1 - Collaboration is always good

The team discovered that over- collaboration can actually hurt the quality of work. When respondents answered the question, “To what extent does interacting with each person improve the quality of your work for the client?”, they discovered that there is a sweet spot where collaboration delivers the most effectiveness - between ‘multiple times a month’ and ‘multiple times a week’. Collaborating at levels above or below this can have detrimental impacts on the quality of output. Thus, collaboration improves the perceived quality of work for clients, but only to a point. Going from interacting with the client slightly more than “multiple times per month” to interacting with the client slightly less than “multiple times per week” seems to capture this increase in the perceived quality of work for the client. The jump from “once a day” to “multiple times a day” seems to result in employees feeling the quality of their work for the client decreases.

Myth 2 - All agencies are different

Within agency land there is a strong belief in the idea that all agencies are different and that each agency has a unique offering meaning that it alone can deliver competitive advantage for its clients. Looking specifically at collaboration within agencies, the research discovered that in fact people are more different from each other than agencies are different from each other. The scores for “How much does interacting with the client improve your quality of work?” were more variable across people than they were across agencies. The scores for “How do you feel about the degree of involvement in each collaboration?” were more variable across people than they were across agencies. The same pattern emerged for frequency of interactions. Most of the variability between agencies was negligible. This means that when people report different collaboration experiences (eg how they feel about the degree of involvement, how much the interaction improves the quality of their work for the client), these experiences primarily stem from the characteristics of individual interactions, as opposed to agencies collectively reporting fundamentally different collaboration experiences.

Myth 3 - Co-locations is always a good thing, regardless of where it is

Co-location is often cited as a key basis for effective client / agency collaboration. To test this theory, the team looked at what happens when co-location occurs at the client’s office versus the agency’s office. Agency respondents felt that frequency of interaction with clients dropped dramatically when they are co-located at the client’s office in comparison to when they are co-located at the agency’s office. A similar pattern emerges when respondents were asked to rank levels of collaboration at the client’s and agency’s offices – with the highest level of satisfaction being recorded when the clients were “always co-located” at the agency. This tallies with anecdotal evidence suggesting that agency staff prefer to be based within the familiar surroundings of their own agency rather than being regularly based at the client’s office. Intriguingly, however, the research found that co-locating at the client’s offices seems to improve the quality of work for them. So agency employees may not always enjoy being based at their client’s offices, but there is evidence to suggest that it produces the best outcomes.

Myth 4 - Agencies are resistant to collaboration with clients

There is often a perception within the agency / client relationship that agencies would rather keep clients at arm’s length to avoid unnecessary interference in the creative process. The research found the opposite, showing that 30.3% of agency respondents felt that the level of collaboration with clients was either “too little” or “a bit less than ideal”. This contrasted with only 9.3% of agency respondents who felt that collaborations were at the other end of the spectrum in the “a bit more than ideal” or “too much” categories. This tells us that agency respondents would like to see more collaboration with their clients in order to produce the best work possible.

Myth 5 - Clients and agencies always know when they have reached an optimum level of collaboration

How do we know when we’ve reached the optimum level of collaboration? Does it just feel right? Do agencies and clients feel that they’ve hit a collaboration sweet spot at the same point? When agency employees say the degree of collaboration is “just right” for them, do clients agree that the agency is taking a collaborative approach to working together? The research discovered that when it comes to collaboration, what’s best for agencies might not be best for clients. It seems that when agency employees feel the degree of involvement in the collaboration is “just right,” clients report lower scores concerning whether their agency is taking a collaborative approach to working together. Conversely, clients feel that their agency is taking a collaborative approach when they are seemingly taking a “hands off” approach (where agency employees say there is “too little” involvement) or becoming highly involved (where agency employees say there is “too much” involvement).

Last updated Tuesday, 23 May 2017