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About 68.8% of industry professionals view ineffective communication is the greatest barrier to agency productivity, according to the 2018 Agency Productivity Report by project management software company Function Point. The report surveyed over 400 industry professionals from agencies in North America, with C-level (45.3%) and management (26.6%) forming the bulk of those surveyed.

Clients not offering accurate briefs (35.8%) was the biggest barrier affecting client communication.

This is followed by clients changing their minds (32.2%) and project team members not understanding requirements (17.4%). Meanwhile, 62.1% of respondents saw clients' failure to meet schedules and timelines as the primary barrier to effective time management, with 48.3% of respondents citing their clients’ workback scheduling as the primary cause for missed deadlines.

About 29.8% said they over-serviced clients by 70% to 90%, and 67% of creatives teams are over-servicing clients by 50% or more. However, 48.5% said there are no repercussions when this occurs.

Function Point's report stated,

Smaller agencies were quick to note that improving their portfolio was a higher priority than profitability.

While this is a logical move in the earlier stages of a new agency, the report noted that steps have to be taken at some point to resolve the disconnect between client satisfaction and agency profitability.

Time tracking is also another factor that can affect profitability. Approximately 42.7% of respondents said their team's time tracking is accurate, while 44.1% said it is somewhat or not at all accurate. The survey also noted that 68.2% of creatives spend their time on billable tasks and 7.1% on administrative tasks, while 24.7% split their time between both.

According to the report, 74.9% of respondents have witnessed an increase in productivity after implementing workplace collaboration tools and agency specific software such as GSuite, Slack and Microsoft 360. Enabling remote working has increased the productivity and billability of employees (78.2%), while 64.5% are able to meet their deadlines. Meanwhile, 86.9% of respondents want more visibility into a project’s status, budget and timeline.

The top three reasons for implementing project management software are better time management (58.1%), improved management of budgets (54.9%) and better team alignment and communication (48.5%).

What's the scene like locally?

Commenting on the trend in Asia, CEO of Grey Group Singapore Konstantin Popovic told Marketing that broadly speaking, the points made are true regardless of geography. As the world becomes more fast-paced, the temptation to cut corners is there all the time, he said, adding that it can translate into a bad understanding of client briefs as well as poor internal communication.

He listed a few ways to ensure productivity, with the first being having a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities internally. When everyone is clear on what is expected and knows what they can expect from their teammates, things already run smoother. The next step is giving all team members an understanding of the bigger picture, which leads to more motivation and collaboration, Popovic said. He added:

One of the most powerful productivity boosters is breaking down the silos between departments and disciplines.

Additionally, having effective meetings can also boost productivity within agencies. Much has been written about companies having too many meetings, but it’s not just the number of meetings that is a drain. It’s poorly run meetings that are the actual problem, Popovic said. He also advises agencies to work fast, in addition to working hard and smart.

"As such, creating a positive, high energy environment is critical to keep with the speed that agencies have to deliver things in today’s fast paced, inter-connected world," he said.

Also adding to the conversation is, Ara Hampartsoumian, MD, TBWA\ Group Singapore who said it is important to remain focused on the tasks at hand, tighter control of resources, as well as have better management and control of clients briefs. This is to ensure that expectations are managed up stream in the discussions.

Shaun Tay, CEO, FCB Kuala Lumpur, said there are several problems with productivity in Malaysia, such as working on briefs without clearly aligned objectives with clients, ineffectual strategies, pontificating on data, silo thinking and lack of direct access to key client decision makers.

However, Tay said FCB does not experience such issues as the most experienced senior leaders of its agency are actively involved in the work at all times. "This means that we’re continuously pushing the ball forward, that’s how goals are scored and work gets done," Tay said. He added:

It has to start at the top. CEOs, CCOs, HODs must on the front lines at all times.

Meanwhile, Michelle Ong, CEO of Dentsu One Malaysia, said it helps to have a clear brand lead to manage and direct the multiple disciplines involved. Also, having the right people and of the right seniority involved is key.

To this end, the agency embraced the "Eigyo" culture of being brand first. "Eigyo" is a Japanese term referring to brand custodians who are gatekeepers of the client’s brands and business, as well as being the CMO-counterpart of clients. Ong said that having a CMO-equivalent on the agency side is practical, as it reduces the inefficiency of having clients engage and coordinate with multiple parties, while faced with "an increasingly breakneck speed of turnaround time".

"From my personal experience working on the client side, the truth is that agencies are often not top of mind when there are so many other matters to deal with. So, having a strong partner on the agency side really helps keep things on track," she said.

(Photo courtesy: 123RF)