Transparency and clarity: Barclays and OMD on partnership

An expansive interview with IPA President Julian Douglas underlines the power of complete transparency and trust for successful partnerships.

Nicola Kemp

Editorial Director Creativebrief


While good intentions alone are never enough to make change, for brands and agencies to develop successful relationships outlining intentions at the beginning of a pitch is vital. 

Hosting a wide-ranging discussion between Tom Corbett, Global Head of Sponsorship and Media at Barclays and Suzy Ryder, Chief Digital Officer at OMD UK, Julian Douglas, President of the IPA pointed to the importance of setting out intentions at the beginning of the pitch process in order to build a mutually beneficial client and agency partnership. 

Douglas, who has spearheaded the Pitch Positive pledge, believes ‘pitching as you mean to go on’ is key to success. He explains: “In many relationships how they evolve over time is largely set from how they start. Beyond this, we can see there is a need to continue to invest in the relationship to really achieve partnership for growth. As Barclays and OMD have demonstrated so successfully.”

The essential elements of a powerful partnership

Forging successful brand and agency partnerships have long been a cornerstone of marketing. Yet in the midst of the ‘permacrisis’ of Covid, geopolitical uncertainty and the cost of living crisis, building trust and transparency in to every relationship has never been more vital.

While there is no question that Covid meant that across the industry employees had no choice but to bring their ‘whole selves’ (and in many cases much of their families) to work, a renewed focus on client and agency relationships is perhaps overdue in some corners. For when you scratch the surface of that perennial, yet often empty question of ‘what's keeping brand and agency leaders up at night’ the answer is a simple yet complex one: people.

If agency leaders are to successfully tackle the biggest challenge of 2023; maintaining staff morale in an economically challenging market, then building mutually respectful and collaborative relationships between brands and agencies is vital.

In many relationships how they evolve over time is largely set from how they start. Beyond this, we can see there is a need to continue to invest in the relationship to really achieve partnership for growth.

Julian Douglas, President of the IPA

This mutual respect is at the heart of the IPA/ISBA Pitch Positive Pledge, which focuses on making the pitch process more intentional, accountable and responsible for brands and agencies alike. This draws on the core findings of the recent IPA white paper, Partnering for Growth, commissioned by the IPA that outlines the key characteristics and contexts that can create long-term, mutually sustainable client and agency relationships.

In the wide-ranging discussion - from why Barclays went out to pitch in 2017; to how they approached that pitch; to why they decided not to re-pitch the account five years later: the film uncovers the essential pillars of a successful brand agency partnership. 

Expanding on some of these areas, Corbett explains that there are a number of non-negotiables for Barclays when working with an agency. These include complete transparency in all trading practices within the agency; full audit rights so that they can follow their money from A to B anywhere within the agency; a commitment from the agency to not make any undisclosed income as part of their partnership; and a contract with the holding group itself so as not to get lost in large agency models. In return for meeting such expectations, Corbett explains that “Barclays is committed to fair payment and to value that service in the right way.”

Suzy Ryder, Chief Digital officer at OMD UK, explained: “If you have a fair contract, anything is possible. You could extend that partnership for many years to come as there are various clauses in the contract that allow us to ensure there is a regular dialogue around whether the scope is still relevant and whether the resourcing and shape of the team are still right based on changing needs. Having this makes a huge difference to us as an agency. There’s a moment we can have those conversations and be heard, that all links back to the principles we committed to as a collective.”

The power of shared endeavour

This shared endeavour and collective focus was at the heart of the discussion. Yet while the focus on process and framework was clear, what was equally clear was that what underpinned success was the talent of the people involved. 

In a market in which CMO’s still complain that top talent is wheeled out for a pitch then nowhere to be seen in the day-to-day while meanwhile in private agency leaders say that bad client relationships or unrealistic expectations can be devastating for staff morale, it is notable that talent topped the agenda. 

As Corbett shared, ‘talent is a tenant built into the contract. This does evolve over time, From the outset it was for us being really clear on what we needed and we agonised over that for so long. We continue to do that on a yearly basis and we evolve talent with it. Back to the point around values and a very fair model we are in a really strong space with talent on the account because talent turnaround is really low.”

Ryder noted the clarity and values of the partnership really attracts people who want to achieve personal growth and the opportunity can be very motivating. This means that the account has a lower turnover of top talent. 

Notably, the team includes people dedicated to governance. Ryder pointed to the complexity of the contract, explaining. She explained: “We have a team of people that are focused on the values and commitments we have committed to. There are people on both the brand and agency side ensuring the partnership is healthy.”

This approach ensures both the brand and agency can be very honest about strengths and weaknesses - working with third parties where necessary and future-proofing the agency with new capabilities where necessary. Ryder explained: “Our capability expands and develops based on the needs of our clients.”

The power of personal relationships

As the industry continues to focus on getting the best out of hybrid working and working through the friction points that come hand in hand with this once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild the workplace for the better, the discussion highlighted the role of face-to-face relationships.

Ryder explained: “Face-to-face interaction is absolutely fundamental to building strong relationships and it's definitely something we have committed to - from the most junior to the most senior. Having that strong face-to-face interactions and foundations when there are difficult conversations, which they are always are, when we have those conversations we are able to have those.”

To watch the full discussion click here.

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