News | 16 April 2020

What do clients really think of creative agencies?

Our new Senior Account Director, Katy Chadwick, considers what makes a great agency-client relationship.

At Embrace, we’ve been reflecting on what makes clients tick, what they want, what they really value in their agencies and what bugs them. David Ogilvy, the grandfather of advertising, knew the power of knowing your client in depth. He said, “really study what you are going to advertise. When I got the Rolls-Royce account, I spent three weeks reading about the car.’’

We follow his advice and pride ourselves on ‘getting closer to go further’. By taking the time to get to know our client’s business and the world they inhabit, we can deliver work with substance, not just surface appeal. We know this claim is bandied about a lot. Many agencies state that they are ‘partners’ and an ‘extension of the client’s team’, but when it comes down to it – is that really the case?

This year’s What Clients Think report from Up to the Light landed on my desk recently and made a fascinating read. Drawing on 525 client interviews, it found that the top three criticisms of agencies by their clients were:

  1. Lack of commercial understanding. This would enable agencies to argue for creative concepts more convincingly
  2. Lack of follow through. Too many agencies were strong in the conceptual phase but let down in production delivery
  3. Not driving things. Clients want agencies that are proactive and challenging rather than eager to please, passive and waiting to be briefed.

Having worked both agency and client side for the last five years in the global brand team at Shell, I can really relate to some of these points. A big bugbear of mine was agencies stating they were part of our team but not being proactive or really thinking through what our objectives were. If what has been asked for in the brief doesn’t meet client objectives – challenge them! Help the client to get to where they want to be.

The report also found that 64% of clients see their design agency as a partner rather than a supplier, but that real client-agency partnerships are difficult to achieve and maintain. This is why returning to Embrace felt right for me. I really wanted to bring these lessons back to agency side (where I feel I really belong!)  It’s great to work for an independent agency that really values building long-term relationships, working closely with clients to help them meet challenges and realise their ambitions.

I’d love to hear what you think about the client and agency relationship or chat through business challenges you’re facing, so why not drop me a note at

Katy Chadwick,
Senior Account Director