by Tom Fels (@thomasfels) The nature of client-agency relationships has evolved over time, but have the metrics of performance evaluation moved on significantly, too? In my experience, while there are some shining lights, there is still work to be done in refining the measurement of agency performance, given the balanced nature of maintaining healthy relationships.

Why measure performance at all?

That’s a valid question. Why not just let the relationship take its course and change suppliers if it’s not working out? I believe that this approach will likely have this exact outcome time and again, leaving both parties none the richer in experience.

Any modern marketer wants not only an agency that delivers what is required but a strategic partner that engages in the pursuit of shared hopes and dreams, providing support over the mid-to-long term. Because of the close engagement between agency and client, it makes sense therefore that regular, formal milestones should be in place to prompt feedback and enable course correction where necessary — with a focus on creating a sustainable framework for mutual success.

Where the wheels fall off

In most commercial relationships, the wheels fall off when a gap, created between the expectations of the client and the delivery of the supplier, does not get adequately addressed. Despite regular contact and collaboration, if the core direction in which both parties are headed is misaligned, there’s no doubt that the relationship will hit stormy waters sooner or later.

Generally, this goes from bad to worse when the long-anticipated performance evaluation is conducted as a one-sided affair that typically exposes any weak areas within the agency, without opening the door for reciprocal input. We talk partnership every day and yet the dynamic may adopt a very parent/child nature when these types of reviews are conducted, which creates an environment of fear that leaves agencies peddling to satisfy with no recourse for changes in client-side inputs.

When performance evaluation works

As with individual job performance, having a clear understanding of the measurement scorecard is a vital starting point to successful and comprehensive evaluations. One needs to know how your efforts will be measured in order to deliver against expectations. The scorecard should be accurate in terms of the scope of services, and comprehensive enough to identify weak areas while offering a balanced review.

The opportunity should also be provided for mutual evaluation, with agency executives able to constructively input their experience of the relationship and ask for assistance that will positively impact agency delivery.

Of course, a good dose of maturity is required in ensuring the whole process is adequately constrained and elevated from the day-to-day frustrations, rather than languishing in detail. There is a component of operational delivery that should be incorporated, though this should not frame the whole experience.

Many best-in-class performance evaluations make use of independent services, which use (often anonymously completed) online performance surveys that cover both projects and the specific components of agency delivery, with a professionally administered feedback session to ensure there is equal opportunity for constructive input and debate. Thus, the key focus is ultimately on the health of the relationship, and the propensity to recommend an agency to others is often a key measure.

Why strong relationships win

In the end, clients and agency staff are just people. We both get up every day and work together to achieve worthy goals. If the ties that bind us together are strong, then the sky is the limit.

As with any other relationship, effort is needed to be kind, to be clear, to trust and to create shared value. If it’s all just about performance delivery, one might miss all the basic things that will actually help the partnership to succeed in the first place, starting with the joy of conquering challenges together.


Tom Fels 2016With a history of local and international experience in leading brand consulting, design, shopper marketing and integrated advertising roles, Tom Fels (@thomasfels) has gained a deeply relevant understanding of the marketing ecosystem. His skills are now put to work daily as chief executive of digital technology and performance-marketing business, Nurun ( He contributes the monthly “Ad Exec” column to MarkLives.

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